I’ve been fighting ovarian cancer for more than three years now and my oncologist is still cautiously optimistic regarding my prognosis. I remain in remission from what is statistically the deadliest of women’s cancers. As I’ve indicated previously in this blog many of my priorities have changed since my diagnosis—this transformation is evident in my leisure activities, my hobbies, and even the reading material that I choose. In this post I’ve chosen to review several of the books that have influenced me during my cancer journey and that I would recommend to other cancer patients or their caregivers.
Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Originally published in 1990, this book has been through numerous editions, the author explores the role of mindfulness and how its practice can improve the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes in detail the techniques he has used successfully with patients in the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. Learning to listen to your own body is vital, and I came away from this book with an improved awareness of how my body responds to the emotional and psychological stress of having cancer. I’ve also acquired new methods to effectively reduce or manage the negative impact of such everyday stress.
Full Catastrophe Living is over 400 pages and covers a lot of territory, including the basics of both meditation and yoga. I can accept that some readers might be turned off by the length of this volume or by its allusions to certain tenants of Buddhism. Mindfulness mediation is frequently taught and practiced within the context of Buddhism, however it has been argued that its essence is universal. For this reason, it can be learned and practiced by cancer patients without appealing to Asian culture or Buddhist authority to enrich it or authenticate it. Advocates contend that mindfulness stands on its own as a powerful vehicle for self-understanding and healing.
The Living With Cancer Cookbook by Kris Ghosh & Linda Carson
I had just started my rounds of chemotherapy when I discovered The Living With Cancer Cookbook by Kris Ghosh and Linda Carson. I’ll never regret my decision to purchase this fantastic volume of recipes specifically aimed at individuals going trough cancer treatment. There’s an abundance of comfort food here and a sense that the authors truly have compassion for those of us who struggle to eat, for example breakfast recipes include cheesy ham and asparagus bake and home-style oatmeal with raisons. I adore pasta, and many of the pasta-based dishes presented in this book are excellent. I can remember that I was able to enjoy the fettuccini with asparagus and mushrooms even while undergoing chemotherapy.
Most of all I love the way this cookbook is organized to deal with the specific symptoms of cancer treatment. The four most common side effects are nausea, mouth sores, diarrhea and constipation. As the authors point out, eating the right foods can help alleviate each of these issues and make them more bearable. This is an almost flawless volume, but I did notice a number of limitations surrounding the supplementary articles that are included with the actual recipes. Specifically, the publishers of The Living With Cancer Cookbook have established a partnership with certain prominent American breast cancer organizations. I could find this alliance slightly annoying at times since much of the bonus information in the book isn’t directly relevant to me as a Canadian or as an ovarian cancer survivor.
The Secret Language of Doctors by Dr. Brian Goldman
I was impressed by both the medical expertise and the Canadian content contained in this bestseller by Dr. Brian Goldman. Goldman is a highly regarded emergency room physician at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. He is also a well-known medical journalist and the host of the CBC radio program White Coat, Black Art. As an author, Goldman is not one to shy away from controversial or difficult to discuss topics within the field of medicine. “I try to get inside my colleagues’ heads and hearts, and explain to the world why they act the way they do and what it means,” he told the Toronto Star.
I learned a great deal about the medical community through reading The Secret Language of Doctors, and I can certainly understand why this insightful and revealing book quickly became a Globe and Mail bestseller. Like most cancer patients, I found it traumatic and confusing to be suddenly thrust into a mysterious world of hospitals, oncologists and the health care system in general. Goldman’s book has helped to demystify the environment I now find myself in. I believe I’m able to be more empathetic toward doctors and nurses, even though some of the slang that is cited in The Secret Language of Doctor’s is shocking or offensive on some level.
I can accept that in the field of medicine slang and other jargon is frequently used as a buffer, a way to protect doctors and patients alike from harsh realities. In the end, Goldman feels the most important issues are dignity and respect. “You should not do or say anything that would disparage your colleagues or patients,” he says. “But telling people not to use slang just makes it go underground. Listen to the slang and hear what it’s trying to say. The people who use that slang are often frustrated by the system when they just want to give good care.”