1. Cancer Is a Word, Not a Sentence: A Practical Guide to Help You Through the First Few Weeks, by Robert Buckman and Pamela Catton (Firefly)
The authors provide a steadying hand for the newly diagnosed, walking the reader through the options and offering advice on everything from dealing with medical personnel to talking about your disease with friends and family.
2. Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Mary Olsen Kelly (Health Communications)
Sometimes a cancer patient prefers to just read something inspiring. Yes, we know, the Chicken Soup series has gotten a little frothy. But this collection of first-person essays offers great support (even for men with breast cancer) and also practical advice (a recipe for Chemo Popsicles, for example).
3. Nordie's at Noon: The Personal Stories of Four Women "Too Young" for Breast Cancer, by Patti Balwanz, Kim Carlos, Jennifer Johnson, and Jana Peters (Da Capo Press)
Patti and Jana met at their oncology clinic when Patti was 24 and single and Jana was 27 and engaged. Stunned to have breast cancer at such young ages, they began to meet for mutual support at the café at the Nordstrom's near their Kansas City homes. They were soon joined by Jennifer, who was 27 and five months pregnant, and Kim, 30. The four women, who became "bosom buddies," decided to write a book about their experience and create a Website (nordiesatnoon.com) to spread the word that breast cancer can hit women under 40. In Nordie's at Noon — Patti's family finished her portion when she lost her battle with the disease at age 29 — they describe the tears and laughter at their luncheons and their struggles with the disease.
4. Cancer Vixen, by Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Knopf)
Laughter crops up more than you would imagine in cancer books. There's a healthy dose of it in Cancer Vixen, by New Yorker cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto, who uses bold graphics in bright colors to tell her tale of battling and beating breast cancer. "What happens when a shoe-crazy, lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling, pasta-slurping, fashion-fanatic, single-forever, about-to-get-married, big-city girl cartoonist with a fabulous life finds...a lump in her breast?" she begins her cartoon strip/memoir. Not about to let cancer ruin her marriage to famed restaurant owner Silvano Marchetto, Marisa lucks out. She may not have health insurance, but with the support of friends, a bossy mother, a down-to-earth and loving fiancé, and a positive attitude, she faces down the Big C.
5. Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, by Elizabeth Edwards (Broadway Books)
Edwards' own story, starting with her breast cancer diagnosis and working backward toward the story closest to her heart, the devastating loss of son Wade, who died in a car accident at age 16. Painting the picture of a far more vulnerable woman than her public profile suggests, Saving Graces is a testimony to Edwards' courage and the emotional support she received after her son's death and during her treatment for cancer. I recently gave this book to a friend after her mastectomy -- the same friend to whom I'm delivering dinner this month, while she's undergoing chemo.
6. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, by Susan Love, Karen Lindsay and Marcia Williams (Da Capo Lifelong Books)
This is the fourth edition of the book that Ellen relied on in its third-edition form as a book to acquaint her with the ins and outs of a breast cancer diagnosis. Her experience was that every doctor puts the emphasis on treatment using his or her own specialty -- surgery, oncology etc. -- so that the patient needs to come equipped with her own overview, as well as a good reading of her own willingness to take risk. There was never one "right" answer.
7. Living Time: Faith and Facts to Transform Your Cancer Journey, by Bernadine Healy, M.D. (Bantam)
As a doctor, Healy can speak to the science of the brain cancer diagnosis she received in 1999. As a patient, she writes eloquently about the intangibles -- faith, family and hope -- all of them, she says, important to the outcome of a disease that, with medical breakthroughs, increasingly resembles a chronic disease.
8. A Darker Ribbon: Breast Cancer, Women and Their Doctors in the Twentieth Century, by Ellen Leopold (Beacon Press)
For those who want some historical context, this book tells the story of how far we've come. Leopold describes the "conspiracy of silence" that surrounded the disease as late as the 1960s, when Rachel Carson -- better known for her environmental pathbreaker "Silent Spring" -- underwent a mastectomy and became an early example of patient activism.
9. Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal, by Rachel Naomi Remen (Riverhead)
Remen, cofounder and medical director of a Bay Area community assistance program for cancer sufferers, wrote this '90s bestseller. It continues to offer inspirational stories and quotes dealing with love, faith, and miracles. Remen is back this spring with a sequel paperback, The Little Book of Kitchen Table Wisdom -- the perfect little gift for those who don't want more information, just comfort and hope.
10. Here's the Bright Side: Of Failure, Fear, Cancer, Divorce and Other Bum Raps, by Betty Rollin (Random House)
A former correspondent for NBC News, Betty Rollin made her own news in 1976 when she published "First You Cry," the first first-person account of her struggle with breast cancer and mastectomy. The book was a bomshell in 1976, opening the floodgates for women who had been battling this diseaase in silence. In this rollicking new book (out in April), she talks about many bum raps, including the reoccurence of her cancer nine years after she thought she had beaten. Please, someone, send a copy of this book to Elizabeth Edwards!