Books can be an enormous resource to help guide friends, family members, co-workers, caregivers, and patients themselves while navigating a serious illness.

What should I say when I hear that my friend has cancer?
How can I help but not get in the way?
How do I let my loved ones know what I need?

One author created a survey for cancer survivors addressing issues they wanted their families, friends, and caregivers to understand. Another compiled practical lessons drawn from caregivers’ experiences to help both patients and their family caregivers to understand and cope with the full range of issues they should anticipate.

Author Letty Cottin Pogrebin became fascinated by her friends’ and family’s diverse reactions to her and her illness. She began talking to fellow patients and dozens of other veterans of serious illness, seeking to discover what sick people wished their friends knew about how best to comfort, help, and even simply talk to them.

Deborah Cornwell says that the cancer experience shakes most caregivers to their core, and can become even more compelling and poignant when it involves children. Thousands of families each year face this shocking reality, she explains. “In the midst of having to manage their own emotions and the unpredictable bustle of caregiving, they are faced with helping children to understand what’s happening around or to them.”

Below are a few books that have been recommended, as well as links to other recourses. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Contact Boston Cancer Support and let us know how we can help.


How to be a friendThroughout her recent bout with breast cancer, Letty Cottin Pogrebin became fascinated by her friends’ and family’s diverse reactions to her and her illness: how awkwardly some of them behaved; how some misspoke or misinterpreted her needs; and how wonderful it was when people read her right. She began talking to fellow patients and dozens of other veterans of serious illness, seeking to discover what sick people wished their friends knew about how best to comfort, help, and even simply talk to them.

Now Pogrebin has distilled their collective stories and opinions into this wide-ranging compendium of pragmatic guidance and usable wisdom. Her advice is always infused with sensitivity, warmth, and humor. It is embedded in candid stories from her own and others’ journeys, and their sometimes imperfect interactions with well-meaning friends.

How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick is an invaluable guidebook for anyone hoping to rise to the challenges of this most important and demanding passage of friendship.


Etiquette BookWhat should I say when I hear that my friend has cancer? How can I help but not get in the way? How do I let my loved ones know what I need?

The Etiquette of Illness is a wise, encouraging, and essential guide to navigating the complex terrain of illness. This collection of anecdotes and insights will help those who feel awkward and unsure about responding to a friend, colleague, or relative who is suffering. The book is also for people who are ill and want to engage with their loved ones effectively. We read about a range of people who are dealing with chronic illness, doctor-patient communications, and end-of-life issues-and who are striving to find their way with awareness and compassion. Drawing on her years of counseling people with serious illness, as well as her own experiences with cancer, Susan Halpern presents an insightful book of the utmost relevance for patients, their caregivers, and their family and friends – a group which will, at some point, include all of us.


Cancer Ettiquitte is a definitive guide on how to respond when someone says, “I have cancer.” Two-time cancer survivor Roseanne Kalick helps readers communicate caringly with the cancer patient. Many have had the gut-wrenching experience of having a friend or loved one reveal they have cancer, yet few can figure out how to react. Using real stories, Kalick conveys how much most people really want to say and do the right thing and how they often fail.


Help Me LiveAlmost all of us know someone with cancer.
But we don’t always know how—and may feel uncomfortable asking. Following her own treatment for cancer, Lori Hope created a survey for cancer survivors addressing issues they wanted their families, friends, and caregivers to understand. The results of the newly expanded survey are presented with honesty, insight, and humor, and complemented by scores of compelling personal stories from survivors of diverse ages and backgrounds.

If you are a caregiver, Help Me Live will help you communicate more effectively and respond more compassionately. And if you are a survivor, it will help you feel validated, empowered, and, ultimately, hopeful.


Things I wish I'd knownFamily caregivers are the unsung heroes of the life-saving drama that’s triggered by a cancer diagnosis.
Nearly three quarters of American households will find themselves caring for a cancer patient at one point in their lives. Things I Wish I’d Known is the first to capture their thoughts, feelings, and insights on a large scale. It is based on 95 formal interviews with non-professional caregivers (some of whom are cancer survivors themselves), covering 117 patients in 19 states and two Canadian provinces who ranged in age from 2 to 92 and faced 40 different cancer diagnoses. Practical lessons drawn from caregivers’ experiences are intermingled with their own words to forge a compelling narrative intended to help both patients and their family caregivers to understand and cope with the full range of issues they should anticipate as they fight the battle of their lives.


Cancer and KidsThe cancer experience shakes most caregivers to their core. It is even more compelling and poignant when it involves children. Thousands of families each year face this shocking reality. In the midst of having to manage their own emotions and the unpredictable bustle of caregiving, they are faced with helping children to understand what’s happening around or to them. Based on interviews with caregivers who have first-hand knowledge, Cancer and Kids was written for cancer caregivers who are responsible for helping children understand what a cancer diagnosis means for a loved one or for themselves.In short and direct language, it offers guidance and resources (both references and internet links) for communicating and taking action in five areas: Sharing the News, Managing the Impact for Children, When the Child is the Patient, and Handling the Death of a Parent or Sibling


And In Health

Winner of a 2014 National Book Award from the Independent Book Sellers of America.
And in Health contains engaging and digestible lessons for couples navigating the life changes brought about by a cancer diagnosis. Dan Shapiro draws on his more than twenty-five years of clinical work as a health psychologist who has researched and worked with couples facing cancer, and on his own experiences of being both the patient (having and beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his twenties) and the supporter/advocate (when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer) to weave together insights on facing cancer while maintaining a strong relationship. Topics include:

How to forge yourselves into a powerful team and avoid common conflict points
Dealing with physicians and getting the best care possible, along with tips for navigating the medical world Strategies for coping with the emotions that can interfere with your relationship
Distinguishing between supportive and draining people in your lives, and learning to invite and accept help, opening to new types of intimacy and making peace with dependence


ACS how to helpI want to help, but what do I say? How best can I help my friend with practical matters? What about spiritual support? Many are hesitant to take any action; they need ideas that are helpful in a variety of situations and quickly accessed. How to Help Your Friend with Cancer provides insight into a friend’s cancer experience in each part of the journey, answering questions such as What do caregivers cite as their number one need? and What does a cancer patient fear most when active treatment is over? It contains suggestions for expressing concern and helping in practical ways throughout a friend’s cancer experience, from diagnosis, through treatment, and after active treatment.


When the Man you Love

When the Man You Love is Ill is a woman’s guide to living with a partner facing a medical crisis or chronic illness. How do you understand the male psyche? How do you manage your own feelings of fear and guilt? How do you deal with the loss and keep the family stable? This book helps to heal the relationship with their partners or spouses.


Cancer Caregiving

Whether caring for one’s self at home or providing care for a loved one, Cancer Caregiving A to Z offers  indispensable quick reference can improve quality of care and quality of life for those with cancer. Organized in a straight-forward alphabetical format, the book covers more than four dozen critical cancer caregiving topics, from anxiety to weight changes, and is filled with vital checklists, as well as time-saving—perhaps life-saving—“What-to-do-ifs,” which are readily accessible.


What Helped meThis book, edited by a breast cancer survivor, What Helped Me Through succinctly relates the experiences, both practical and sensitive, of hundreds of cancer survivors—including celebrities such as Lance Armstrong, Carly Simon, and Scott Hamilton—who candidly relate what helped get them through every aspect of the cancer journey. The wisdom and hope offered in this book will be invaluable to newly diagnosed patients and their families, as well as their doctors and caregivers.


mom and the polkaAn informative and reassuring story, Mom and the Polka Dot Boo Boo helps families talk about breast cancer, gently preparing children for what lies ahead in the weeks and months following their mother’s diagnosis.


A Lion Inside coverThis is the story of a brave little girl named Lucy and the wacky ways in which she learned to cope with all the changes that cancer brought to her life. This rhyming tale shares the funny parts and the hard parts of her journey, and ends with a message of hope and love from Lucy herself. A Lion Inside is beautifully illustrated by H.T. Yao and written by Lucy’s mother. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to Lucy’s Love Bus, the childhood cancer charity that Lucy founded when she was 11 years old.


Additional Books Addressing Cancer Support Click the book images below for more information.