Doctor, oncologist, and investigator are all words that describe my relationship with cancer, but I also think of it as my nephew, grandson, friend, and son, which is why I use them to describe it. Being a doctor isn’t going to protect you, of course, and it can even be very bad for you. Seeing your family member’s name in the top left corner of a CT scan makes it hard to be objective. For a long time, I could also call myself a “writer,” but only in secret, working on it in the morning before going to work, like some people do yoga or run.
With the release of my book This Living and Immortal Thing, this secret has become less important and even public. Perhaps it won’t be important. Perhaps I’ll be fired when people find out.
People read before anyone can write. In these books, cancer is either the main theme or has a small role that you won’t forget. List: This is not a complete list. Some of them I read as an oncologist, some as an interested bystander, and some with the nephew, grandson, friend, and son in mind.
My favorite new book, The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, hasn’t made the cut, though. You don’t like it because I haven’t read it. (It’s said that it’s very good.)
The Immortal Tale of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I was halfway through my novel when I found out that this book was coming out. I was shocked. Lacks is a very important person in the history of cancer, and she is also a character in my book, though only in a very abstract way. Lacks is a very important person in the history of cancer. She is also When she died in the 1950s, she had a very aggressive cervical cancer. After her death, her cells were kept alive as a cell line. In the end, I was able to calm down when I found out that Skloot’s book is based on his own life.
Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
One of the books where the illness only plays a big part is this one. However, you could say that Roth’s book is on the other end of the same spectrum as his book about body cravings. New York had just become my new home when I read the part where Mickey Sabbath’s lover, Drenka, is dying of ovarian cancer. This is what I remember most about my first time reading Roth’s book. I sat there for a long time with the book closed in front of me, stunned by Roth’s very specific language, before getting up and walking across First Avenue to go to the clinic.
Memoir by John McGahern
The narrator’s voice is that of a young boy who will never be able to move on from the death of his mother from breast cancer. This is my favorite of all McGahern’s books. I learned a little about John while I was still working in Dublin. John was sick when I met him. There were a lot of times when I tried to turn the conversation away from his treatment and toward literature. At the end, he gave me a copy of this book with an inscription in handwriting that I was too ashamed to admit I couldn’t read. His job was to teach at the school, after all. In the end of the book, and after John died, I recognized his words: “I would want no shadow to fall on her joy or her deep trust in God.” They are some of the most beautiful I have ever read. She wouldn’t have to deal with any false accusations from people who didn’t know her. Then, as we went back, I would pick the wild orchid and the windflower for her as we went back.
Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Perhaps the most well-known work of fiction about the disease. As an oncologist, this is one of the books I read. One thing that really caught my eye was how old and limited some of the treatments were. Radium or a “injection”: You either got radium or you got an injection. The 1950s were a time. I think the book was written mostly as a critique of communism as a real-life thing, and the fact that it is so old probably shows this even more. On the other hand, it also shows how far we’ve come in such a short time. In the beginning of an era, this book tells the story of how people came to be who they are.
The Newton Letter by John Banville
CANCER IS A PLAYER. IT CHANGES YOUR BEHAVIOR. IT’S THE QUIET ONGOING TRAGEDY THAT YOU LIVE WITH. I admire people who are brave enough to deal with the end of their illness, but not for what they do every day. They have to go to school, eat, and pay their taxes, and they have to breathe in and out and pay their bills. They might be having a hard time, but you don’t know.
A Scattering by Christopher Reid
This is how the poet talks about and remembers his wife, who died of sarcoma. He also tells us about how he met her and fell in love with her, and how she died. The humour is always there, pointing out how bad things are. This is one of the most heartfelt books I have ever read.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
It’s the last story in the collection, People Like That Are the Only People Here. The narrator, a famous writer, finds herself in a pediatric oncology ward (“peed onk”) after her son gets a Wilm’s tumor. It’s hard to forget how the tumor looked in the baby’s bloody stool, “startling against the white diaper, like a tiny mouse heart packed in snow.” Then, a doctor pulls her aside to speak in private, only to ask for her autograph.
The Biology of Cancer by Robert Weinberg
A book, but not too difficult as far as these things go. It might be worth taking your time if you want to know why and how.
It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong
My heart was broken when I learned there was no value in the No. 7 yellow jerseys that I had. It wasn’t just a game. He had brain damage, for Christ’s sake. Many good things were built on top of him. Still, they do. He talked about cycling a lot, but I found myself skipping over the parts about cancer.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
This is an anthology of Vanity Fair articles that deal with his sudden cancer diagnosis. He felt like he was being “gentle and firm deported” from the country of the well across a “strange frontier.” They thought this was witty and clever, but they could also tell that he was very afraid of what he was seeing and how he was trying to figure out what was going on in the new place. As an oncologist, I read this one. I also read it as a researcher to learn more about it. Hitchens was a supporter of science and new ideas. … but I can’t help but think we let him down. People should not be satisfied with how far we’ve come, but they should not be happy with how quickly things are moving. He told us about the limitations and side effects of the standard therapies he took, as well as the short-lived hope of the experimental ones that didn’t work for him.