The CancerLand Bookshelf: Introduction


Alysa Cummings
Alysa Cummings

These days there’s no support group for what ails me. And if you ask me, there ought to be.

True confession time: I’m totally hooked on books written by fellow survivors, and have been since my own cancer diagnosis more than ten years ago.

Sure, there are nastier habits to own up to, but the fact of the matter is this- since 1998 my personal library of “sick lit” (survivor poetry and memoir) – has grown, to fill to overflowing three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in my home office. My friends have started calling me the CancerLand Librarian and I have no quick comeback; the title fits me to a tee.

Truth be told, if the publishers keep publishing them, I’ll keep reading them and try desperately to keep up. And if my Oncolink buddies keep shipping me the latest survivor books to review (bless their hearts), in the very near future. I may be scouting the stores for a fourth bookshelf to keep my CancerLand library from stacking up in messy piles all over the floor.

What’s the appeal, you ask? Well, here’s my best guess. With each new book I crack open, with each survivor poem I discover, I immediately pick out bits and pieces of my own CancerLand journey – right there, in black and white – on the printed page.

But you know what? Someone else’s cancer story rarely upsets me. Reading one doesn’t lead to painfully reliving my own health crisis. Not at all. Instead there’s a sense of familiarity: knowing the bumpy road from cancer diagnosis, through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation to recovery. A knowing cancer based on intimate, up-close-and-personal, firsthand experience. (Thankfully most of my low points, the worst treatment memories, are fading nicely with the passage of time). So believe it or not, the cancer experience in print, illness from a survivor author’s point of view, can be a positive reading experience.

Here’s how it works for me: line by line, page by page, I slowly build a virtual connection to the author and carry on a dialogue in my head as their story unfolds (How are we different from one another? What do our stories have in common?) Ultimately, that shared experience moves me, inspires me. To smile. To laugh out loud occasionally. To consider a new insight related to survivorship. Bottom line: reading books by cancer survivors is always enlightening, always healing.

With this latest Oncolink project, over the next few months, let me share some passages from a few of my favorite titles on the Cancerland Bookshelf.

When I read a new book, I have a habit of turning down the corners of certain pages that “speak” loudly to me. Sometimes it’s an anecdote that resonates. Or helps me think about CancerLand in a brand new way. May these passages be meaningful to you as well. And maybe even motivate you to purchase a book or two to start filling up your very own CancerLand Bookshelf.

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips
Buy on Amazon

Excerpted from Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr

(CT: Morris Publishing, 2007)

Congratulations! You have been preapproved for a Platinum Club Cancer Card membership! Though it sucks that you have cancer (and we’re very sorry about that), membership to this ever-growing club does come with its perks. Your Cancer Card provides you with oodles of mileage points and has no expiration date. It’s an I’m-human card, and like it or not, you can’t do it all; every now and then you need a treat.

Here are a few club rules to keep in mind:

  1. Your membership begins the day you are diagnosed.
  2. It is nontransferable.
  3. There is no annual charge, interest rate, or debt.
  4. You may swipe your card freely, but we urge you to use some discretion

Tragically, the card can be declined…

When I first started swiping my card, I thought the skies would open and a bolt of lightning would strike me in the ass. “No I can’t do the dishes, I have cancer.” BOOM! OUCH! KARMIC EXPLOSION! My husband has even warned me, “Don’t use cancer as an excuse to get out of stuff unless it’s for real. Remember the tale about the boy who cried wolf? Point taken. Use it, don’t abuse it.

Swipe for an OUT, or an IN

  • I need to rest. I have cancer.
  • I regret to inform you that due to cancer, I will not be able to attend your party…
  • Oh my word, I have no idea why I behaved that way! Really, it wasn’t me, it was the cancer!
  • I don’t have to deal with this nonsense; I have cancer!
  • No, you can’t have that parking spot, I have cancer! Back off!