They Lived and Laughed and Sometimes Left: Cancer Stories

Cancer is no joke. Fighting it isn't, either, especially if you're young. However, there are some moments of humor, if you're with the right people and looking for them. These are books about people who developed cancer at a young age and lessons learned.

It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too) by Nora McInery Purmort is about what happens when you miscarry, then your dad dies of cancer, and then your husband dies of cancer, all within about a month and a half. Of course, there's a bit more to it than that, like when Nora and her husband Aaron decide to get married and have a child soon after his diagnosis (and Nora gets dressed down by a doctor for having the temerity to bring another life into the world while her husband is gravely ill), which turns out to be their son Ralph, a bucket of laughs and bad breath. This book really does have some side-splitting moments, provided by Nora's (and Aaron's and her family's) fantastic sense of humor, and her insistence that "I am not special." I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, which may be even better than just reading it.

Meredith Norton comes from a high-achieving, African-American family, so she's planning for war when she's (finally) diagnosed with breast cancer in Lopsided. What follows is a fierce and irreverent comic assault on life with a disease that could very well kill her. Norton is not alone: her family and friends rally with good intentions to hilarious results. Like Purmort, Norton has a spouse and child, and they help anchor her through her aggressive treatment. In the end, Norton is looking for a miracle, not to save her life, but to be able to make something of it.

Over the course of chemo, Sophie Van Der Stap acquires nine wigs and writes about them in The Girl With Nine Wigs. Each wig is imbued with its own personality, or more accurately, an aspect of Sophie's personality. Wearing each wig and encountering the world with it broadens Van der Stap's experience of the world and herself. Not that her family and friends are absent: Van Der Stap's bonds with them deepen immeasurably during this time. She also makes time to visit the south of France, fall in love, and generally grab hold of life with both hands. In the end, Sophie beats the odds and emerges a fuller young woman.

One might think only women wrote cancer memoirs. Mostly, but not entirely true. In Die Young With Me, Rob Rufus writes about not how punk rock exactly saved his life, but made it worth the trouble. Rufus and his twin brother, Nat, are the only punks in their Appalachian town, but their world really opens up when they start a band. Invited to go on a national tour, Rufus and Nat separate for the first time when Rufus is diagnosed with stage three cancer and Nat decides to tour without him. Away from his twin and isolated in the land of the sick, Rufus finds unknown inner reserves and takes comfort in the music he loves. Rufus' dark sense of humor leavens things and five years later, when this book is published, Rufus is cancer-free.

Got cancer books you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments.



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