New Book: Everyone’s Guide to Cancer Survivorship – A Road Map for Better Health

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Note: I recently wrote a post about trying not to worry as I faced a brain MRI and waited for the results. Thanks to all of you who wrote such kind comments in response. I got the results back, and the M.R.I. “showed nothing.” OK, no jokes! Sometimes, with chemo brain, I wonder myself exactly what’s left in there…

    Unfortunately, “Everyone’s Guide to Cancer Survivorship – A Road Map for Better Health” implies a lot more in its title than it actually delivers. This newly published book (October 2007, Andrews, McMeel Publishing, LLC), a promising 350 pages covering everything from urinary incontinence to the role of poetry in health, unfortunately falls victim to “too many cooks spoil the broth” syndrome: in this case, its 41 different contributors have created something that’s an awfully bumpy read, despite being filled with good information (and intentions).

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    The four lead authors include two doctors, a social worker, and a registered nurse. In addition to Ernest H. Rosenbaum, M.D.; David Spiegel, M.D.; Patricia Fobair, L.C.S.W., and Holly Gautier, R.N. and a number of other health professionals, various sections of the book were written by professors, artists – and the wig master for the San Francisco Opera. Speaking as an editor, this project must have been a nightmare; the term “herding cats” comes to mind.


    There are as many different voices and writing styles in this book as there are contributors, and they range from next-door-neighbor friendly to pure “doctorese” – the words “comorbidities,” “psychosocial,” “alkylating,” and “sequelae” are not ones we laypeople use in casual conversation. They’re bound to send most of us scurrying for a dictionary – or a different book.

    The authors say right up front that the book is written “for both survivors and health professionals.” So, reader beware: if you’re an average survivor, rather than a health professional, you’ll struggle through much of the material. That said, I believe Rosenbaum et. al. made a valiant effort to examine an issue that’s becoming more and more critical: survivorship, which describes the upwards of 11 million Americans who are now cancer survivors, with the number growing daily.


    The book is dedicated to “the survivors of cancer who have struggled with great difficulty to achieve a satisfying and productive quality of life after their diagnosis and treatment, and whose courage and perseverance have inspired others to live their lives to the fullest.” In addition, royalties from the book are being donated to the Stanford Cancer Survivorship Program.

    IF you’re good at understanding medicalese; and IF you’re willing to spend some time in the wonderfully comprehensive, 46-page index looking for exactly the information you want; and IF you don’t mind that this is “Everyone’s” guide to cancer survivorship, and you’ll spend a fair amount of time skipping over information about prostate and colon and lung and other cancers; then you should go to your local bookstore or library and check this book out. Again, I applaud the authors for tackling this critical subject; but I believe that ultimately, their reach exceeded their grasp, and they’ve created a textbook for health professionals rather than a cover-to-cover read for cancer survivors.

  • Here are some other books that I’ve found extremely useful as you navigate the sometimes stormy seas of survivorship:

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    “Living Beyond Breast Cancer – A Survivor’s Guide for When Treatment Ends and the Rest of Your Life Begins,” by Marisa C. Weiss, M.D., and Ellen Weiss. Times Books, Random House, 1997.


    Although this book is now 10 years old, most of its information is fairly evergreen. Dr. Weiss, founder and president of, “the world's most trafficked online resource for medically-reviewed breast health and breast cancer information,” writes clearly and knowledgeably about her subject, covering areas most of us are vitally interested in: weight control, sexuality, menopause, lingering side effects, the fear of recurrence, fertility, lymphedema, work issues, and more.

    “Breast Cancer Basics and Beyond,” by Delthia Ricks, M.S., Hunter House Publishers, 2005.


    Ricks, an award-winning senior medical writer for Newsday in New York, has studied cancer biology and genetics. She takes that knowledge, plus her considerable skill as a writer, and fashions a book that’s packed with good information, and simply a really good read. The book covers the entire breast cancer journey thoroughly, focusing on diagnosis and active treatment, with a section on survivorship at the end.


    If you’re looking specifically for survivorship information, Weiss’ book is a better choice. But for an overview of everything from “what’s this lump?” to finding post-treatment support online, Ricks’ book is for you.

    In addition, I reviewed two excellent post-treatment books in an earlier post. Check out my After Breast Cancer post.

Published On: December 03, 2007