CancerLand Bookshelf: When Your Life is Touched by Cancer


Alysa Cummings
Alysa Cummings

Author: Bob Riter
ISBN: 0897936795
Information: Hunter House, 2014

OncoLink Rating:OncoLink CancerLand Bookshelf

Let me share my bias right up front.

I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Bob Riter to author a book filled with helpful advice for cancer patients and the people who support them.

Here’s why.

Bob is the executive director of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes in Ithaca, NY where every day of the week he helps patients navigate the journey from diagnosis through cancer treatment to a place of healing and recovery. In addition, Bob himself is a breast cancer survivor. He’s “been there and done that;” so when it comes to the physical and emotional challenges of surgery and chemotherapy, Bob writes about what he knows firsthand. Either life experience would make Bob superbly qualified to write a book with the title When Your Life is Touched by Cancer. But paired together, his expertise and credibility shine brightly indeed.

First and foremost, the book is well organized and indexed, which enables patients and caregivers to easily access information by immediate need or concern. In that sense, it functions as an excellent reference tool. Moreover each entry is short in length and typically features bulleted big ideas and bits of useful advice. Such a page layout perfectly matches a patient’s need to get straightforward answers to pressing questions without delay.

Topics addressed range from making sense of your diagnosis (It’s a club that no one wants to join, but trust me, you’re in good company) to the etiquette of getting a second opinion (…if you have one of those rare doctors who does take offense, you should seriously consider getting a new doctor). Non-fiction self-help books for cancer patients often include a section on how to speak to children about your disease. When Your Life is Touched by Cancer goes one step further and discusses some strategies for sharing the news with your parents (You may need to gently remind them that you’re the decision-maker on all matters relating to your illness).

Furthermore, the author is able to move seamlessly from practical advice to humorous anecdote. Such is the case when he tells the memorable story of bumping into someone at the supermarket and quickly becomes guilty of oversharing:

I once responded to a “how are you?’ from a friend by saying, “Well, I was just diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m going to have a mastectomy next week and then a few months of chemotherapy. What’s new with you?” Although his expression was priceless, I decided that wasn’t the smoothest approach.

No other cancer book I know of takes on the issue of “the pity puss” – how people change once they hear about your cancer diagnosis (people would look at me with solemn expressions and tilted heads as if they were looking deep into my soul). And no other title on the CancerLand Bookshelf contains an answer to the question of whether cancer patients can donate blood (being diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma disqualifies a person from donating, but many others who have had cancer can donate if they have been cancer free for at least one year).

Best of all, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer finds ways to be both upbeat and authentic, as evidenced by the section How to Be a Groundhog Friend. How can you be a friend to someone with cancer? The author addresses that with a reference to the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, where the same day repeats, over and over and over again: (A groundhog friend checks on the patient throughout the course of his or her treatment…a groundhog friend keeps popping up to do things that make the patient’s life easier…above all, a groundhog friend keeps reappearing, day after day).

Finally, I should also explain that for the past few years I’ve shared virtual blog space with Bob Riter on the OncoLink website where his Ithaca Journal cancer columns regularly appear, many of which are reproduced in this book. While I have never met the author face to face, sometimes it just feels like I know him from reading his work week after week. That can happen sometimes between a writer and reader. Especially when an author is gifted with a strong, clear writer’s “voice” along with a warm, caring tone; “a smile” behind the words, if you will.

The fact of the matter is that Bob’s style is so engaging that readers of When Your Life is Touched by Cancer will be drawn in too. This book offers a wonderful sense of community that comes from connecting with an empathetic fellow cancer survivor who “knows the ropes” and is graciously willing to share what he has learned along the way to help you avoid the pitfalls that lie ahead. In the final analysis, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer is a 132 page cancer support group between two soft covers.

Sales of the book support the work of the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes in Ithaca, NY.