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Book reviews

There are many books on breast cancer. Women from BCNA's Review & Survey Group have read and shared their thoughts on a range of books that may be helpful for people affected by breast cancer. 

You can read their reviews below. 

From Cancer to CanCan by Amanda Pipella

Book review by Kate Minkoff

From Cancer to CanCan by Amanda Pipella book titleAmanda Pipella has chosen a fabulously inviting, yet mysterious cover for her book reflecting on her ‘lost year’ following a breast cancer diagnosis.  It’s bright pink and has a picture of the Eiffel tower and a CanCan dancer – what’s not to love about that? You have to wait till the end to understand the connections.

Amanda has a strong and supportive relationship not just with family and friends, but also with her god and religious community – this helps sustain her throughout her treatment. I must confess, as a non-religious person, I only skimmed the biblical quotes and references to god’s plans.

She is incredibly generous in sharing the shock and numbness she feels on receiving the ‘recall’ phone call from BreastScreen – perhaps a familiar moment frozen in time for many of us. The description of the shopping baskets and being the ‘last woman standing’ in the waiting room is heart wrenching. The book charts her diagnosis two days later and her treatment, which includes chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, a double mastectomy, radiotherapy and reconstruction. We learn more about her friends and family, her dog and even complete strangers who offer support and inspiration. Her medical treating team are lovingly described and she is very respectful of their support, knowledge and care.

Particularly touching was her meeting with the hairdresser, inviting her into the salon to sensitively trim the little hair remaining following chemotherapy. This generous soul does not charge until months later when Amanda finally has sufficient regrowth to warrant a comprehensive styling cut – who doesn’t remember the triumph of returning to ‘real’ hair cuts’?

Amanda’s husband writes a poignant chapter describing how the balance changes in their relationship, as he becomes her supporter, rather than the supported.

Finally we learn more about the trip to Paris and the reasons behind the visit to the Folies Bergere.

While Amanda’s story would be helpful to friends and families trying to understand a loved one’s experience of breast cancer, it’s also valuable to read if you’re reflecting on your own lost year/s of diagnosis and treatment.  If you are religious, then Amanda’s quest to understand how god can assist in the healing of cancer will resonate with you.

Purchase From Cancer to CanCan at Amazon (eBook only) 

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Bad Hair Year: Beating a brain tumour, breast cancer, and healing a broken heart by Bambi Smyth

Book review by Jane Scoble

Bad Hair Year by Bambi Smyth book coverThe book gives the reader an insight into what it is like to be faced with potential life threatening medical emergencies. The insights into how the writer was feeling and how she coped with her feelings, the impact that being diagnosed had on her family and friends and how she dealt with daily life.

The book is about the author, written from a very personal perspective. The writer’s partner, friends and family are given a life by the way they are described and included in the story. As each part of the story is told, I could imagine myself sitting talking to the writer, and knowing how she felt about everything going on about her. I found the book very hard to put down, as it never gave away what the outcomes would be, so I had to keep reading to hear what next was going to happen. The book made me laugh and cry at various times. There were times when I was reading and holding my breath, until I found out what the next outcome was and how well the writer recovered from a particular operation or procedure.

The title of the book was a great glimpse into what the book was about. As you read through you could understand why it was a 'bad hair year'. Whilst I understood the brain tumour and breast cancer, healing a broken heart was not as obvious to me.

This book is inspirational - it would help someone that is going through tough times, medical or otherwise. It was a book of hope - that despite facing overwhelming hurdles, that life can change and it is not always as bad as it seems. It would suit a range of audiences, but perhaps more so to those of 30 plus and above.

Thank you so much to Bambi Smyth for sharing your story in such great detail and sharing your feelings, the good the bad and the ugly, with such clarity. I would give this book a rating of 9 out of 10, as being one of the best of this type of genre that I have read.

Purchase Bad Hair Year: Beating a brain tumour, breast cancer, and healing a broken heart from Five Mile (eBook only) 

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Women’s Healthy Living Diet: breast cancer recovery & reducing risk by Dr Susan Hart

Book review by Gabi Brie

Women’s Healthy Living Diet: breast cancer recovery & reducing risk by Dr Susan Hart book coverLooking like your favourite women’s magazine, the appearance of this bright and breezy publication conceals serious content in an easy-to-read format.

The prefaces, by two eminent medicos in the cancer field, establish the credentials of Dr Susan Hart who is a dietitian holding numerous senior positions. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 she was startled to note how little dietary information there was for cancer survivors and set about rectifying the situation. All of her advice is underpinned by peer-reviewed research.

As she explains: there are specific factors that stand out as being the most important in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence, which can be summarised by the acronym BABE:

  • B for body weight
  • A for alcohol
  • B for bones
  • E for exercise.

There are chapters for each of these issues, with every item clearly explained. If you’re the sort of person who needs to know the reason why you should do one thing as opposed to another, this little book is for you. It sets out possible barriers, especially regarding exercise during chemotherapy - which sounds counter-intuitive, but you will fully understand why working out during treatment is beneficial.

Each chapter contains hints on how much of a kind of food to eat, what foods contain the nutritional ingredient under discussion and tips on the best way to prepare them. She also provides key messages - for instance, regarding amounts of alcohol, dairy foods, exercise and so on that are best for maximum benefit.

At least in my mind, this book clears up several issues. For instance, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was given to understand that I should avoid soy products and have done so for the past seven years. However, Dr Hart quotes several studies which suggest that soy products actually may have benefits for breast cancer survivors, as long as the intake is moderate. She clearly explains exactly what a moderate intake consists of.

As someone who has had weight problems all my adult life, I found the chapter called 'Motivation, goal setting & behaviour change' helpful. She not only sets out what you need to do to to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but there are also tips on how to achieve this goal. For example, exactly how much is a ‘handful of nuts’ or how to interpret food labels.

This book contains much ‘sensible’ advice in an easy-to-follow format. It's easy to find any specific piece of information and her writing is highly persuasive. If you need motivation to exercise and seek dietary information, this is your go-to book.

Purchase Women’s Healthy Living Diet: breast cancer recovery & reducing risk from Book Depository 

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Drink the Wild Air: An accidental awakening by Fiona Evans

Book review by Tonia Woodberry 

Drink the Wild Air: An accidental awakening by Fiona Evans book coverA quick glance at the website Drink the Wild Air was enough to convince me that I wanted to read Fiona’s story. She sounded young, vibrant, real. I also loved the title.

When the book arrived I admired the cover with her beautiful imperfect breasts proudly displayed. I then promptly put the book face down on the kitchen bench. I stopped and thought, 'am I ready?' I hadn’t read a cancer book since my own journey two years ago. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be reminded of my experience or be sad for yet another woman. I wondered if I had appropriately thought through my commitment to review this book. Was it too soon?

Later that evening I picked up the book and started to read. 'Now or never,' I thought, and I am so glad I did. Fiona’s story is not about cancer. It is a raw story of a woman discovering herself and working out what is meaningful in her life. Her breast cancer is a part of the story but most definitely not the focus. The honesty and directness with which she writes makes her book a very refreshing quick read (I finished it in three nights). At no point did I feel that she wrote the book for sympathy - this isn’t a "poor bugger me" story.

It also isn’t a book of extraordinary triumph or achievement. While some women do amazing things like run marathons after cancer, others like myself and to some extent Fiona, use our energy to just keep fit and be healthy. We prefer to be wiser and kinder to ourselves and our battered bodies.

Her book highlights some of the many issues women struggle with including depression and her story shows professional assistance can help. For health professionals she nicely explains how a compassionate attitude makes a patient feel like a person and that words spoken without thought can have a huge negative impact.

At the end of the book, Fiona felt like a friend. I do recommend this book and I am donating it to my local library in the hope that a range of women (not just those with a cancer journey) and perhaps a few blokes will read and enjoy her book. 

Purchase Drink the Wild Air: An accidental awakening from Amazon (eBook only) 

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This Present Moment: an art therapy journal by Meg Welchman 

Book review by Bernadine Nolen 

This present moment book coverThis Present Moment is essentially an art therapy journal designed to help readers attain mindfulness through reading, colouring and meditation. The book has 76 pages, so is not taxing and can be dipped into whenever the reader wants to. Written by Meg Welchman, who is currently in remission from cancer, it is poignant yet positive. Illustrated by Grace Cuell, the mandalas are unique. Grace developed an interest in drawing mandalas as a tool for mindfulness during her travels.

Art therapy is a form of expressive, mental, and emotional wellbeing. The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviours and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness. Art therapy can be used to massage one’s inner-self in a way that may provide the individual with a deeper understanding of him or herself.

Mandalas are included in the book to help the reader focus on colouring to help release one’s creativity and to slow down and be in the moment. The mandalas are not ‘perfect' and were done intentionally, to remind the reader that life is not perfect. For many people, reading and using this book will be an uplifting and positive experience. This book is a reminder for us all, that all we have is this moment in time, right now - 'This. Present. Moment'

The introduction to mindfulness is a great introduction to the concept and explains it clearly and succinctly. The book is divided into fifteen themes about life, including Love, Hope, Vulnerability, Acceptance, Courage, Creativity and Resilience.

Each theme has a quotation, a mandala, a blank doodle page and a key memory from Meg about her journey.

Readers undergoing life changing circumstances will look for hope and inspiration in many different ways. This book will be of great support to many people, but may not be for everyone.

There is also a further reading and support guide for interested readers.

Get those colouring pencils ready!

Purchase This Present Moment: an art therapy journal from Avid Reader 

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A year of medical thinking by S.K Reid 

Book review by Barbara Hasenoehrl

A year of medical thinking by S.K Reid book coverThe book A year of medical thinking covers one year of the personal journey of a woman as she copes with life challenging situations.

S.K. Reid introduces the reader to the intricacies of IVF treatment and shares her joy and excitement when falling pregnant. She also allows the reader to know about her deepest emotions from the disappointments of failing treatments to the grief of losing her baby.

Just at a point where she is trying to come to terms with this loss, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. She gives a detailed description of her own physical and emotional roller coaster facing this potentially life threatening illness, which is deemed to take away her deepest wish: to become a mother.

This book will appeal to anyone who had to go through the experience of losing a baby or is faced with a potentially life-threatening illness. The book certainly touches on issues like diagnosis and treatments, but it still is a personal, heartfelt account of someone trying to cope with very taxing life circumstances rather than a clinical matter-of-fact report.

The book is divided into chapters named after the seasons of the year.

Seasons might often be associated with distinct feelings, emotions and moods S.K. Reid has successfully brought that together to accentuate her life’s events. As the seasons change, so does the author who is forced to face and reflect on the deeper meaning of life and its priorities. The book shows that as one season rolls into the next, life goes on as well and the reader gets to share uplifting anecdotes (establishing lifelong friendships) as well as heartbreaking episodes (her Dad is diagnosed with melanoma and the death of her beloved dog).

The book is written in a very compelling way wanting the reader to know what is coming next. It is a book that shows that life challenging situations will change the way you live forever. It is a story about self-discovery and listening to yourself but also about courage, inner strength and resilience.

Purchase A year of medical thinking from Amazon

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The patient chef by Chris O'Brien

Book review by Maria Avdjieva 

The patient chef by Chris O'Brien book coverThis recipe book with a difference, written by and for people on their cancer journey, captures the reader right from the start. Hard times require strategies for gaining physical and spiritual strength and this is what this book offers. The wide range of highly nutritional and healthy recipes is sprinkled with personal stories and insights of people touched directly or indirectly by cancer – people we can relate to and learn from. There are also tips for carers.

I found the range of recipes to be diverse and comprehensive encompassing cuisines from around the world. Based on my own experience while going through chemotherapy, I would highly recommend the range of juices such as the White Blood [Cells] Count Juice. Salads and snacks, as well as meat-free versions of traditional recipes, are also most suitable during chemotherapy. I found them to be some of the few dishes I could eat over that period.

I’m not passionate about cooking, but had this book been available to me at the time of my chemotherapy ordeal, I
would have definitely found it to be an indispensable source of proven recipes from ‘sisters-in-fate’. My husband would have also taken on board tips such as maintaining a food chart with time/food taken each day to monitor patient’s food and liquid intake.

The best news, of course, is this wonderful collection of targeted recipes offers a nutritional and spiritual diet to cancer sufferers all along their journey of claiming their life back. It also features recipes submitted by BCNA members!

Happy cooking for longevity and life enjoyment!

Purchase The Patient Chef by Chris O'Brien from The ABC Shop 

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One breast, two breast by Susie Kliman

Book review by Fiona Dewhirst-Daniel

One breast, two breast by Susie Kliman book coverSusie’s story is told in such a simple and delightful manner that you can’t help but smile, which is quite an achievement for such a serious topic.

The first glimpse is a perfect promise of the whole. This little gem is a beautifully illustrated show-and-tell of one woman’s journey through diagnosis, surgery, treatments and reconstruction. The cover drawing is a great example of how breast shape and size varies between women – young, old, big, small, pert, saggy or anything in between. This is visually explained with simple quirky sketches that warm your heart and show you that your breasts are reassuringly somewhere in the middle, and all are normal.

But, of course, they aren’t normal at all, are they? There is something wrong, and it’s called cancer. Each of us who has travelled in the same country recognise each of Susie’s waypoints, described with synergy of rhythm in her rhyme and the matching strokes of Esther Erlich’s illustrations.

We might have taken a different route, skipped a stop or visited a different town, but the chauffeurs are all those amazing people who make it their business to heal, help and support us in our travels.

For those who have just landed in cancer country, this book finishes with an undeniable truth. Travelling ‘in-country’ will change the rest of your life. Susie gives hope that your foreign adventure will enlighten both your own heart and those who are able to keep up with your travails while they remain safely home.

The final two pages contain more text than the preceding story, where humour turns to ‘some tips and titbits’ (love that phrase) from one expat to a new arrival. Highly helpful.

In summary, this book is a short giggle that reminds us that our foreign adventure may have been scary at times but, with help from others, we will be able to return home wiser, and hopefully with a sense of humour.

Purchase One breast, two breast by Susie Kliman from Booktopia

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DCIS of the breast: Taking control by Professor John Boyages, MD, PhD

Book review by Thelma Fulton 

DCIS of the breast: Taking control by Professor John Boyages MD PHD book coverFrom the ‘Dedication’ of the book to the last page, this book captured and held my attention.

Professor John Boyages has written a must-have read for all women diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The easy manner in which information is discussed gave me a sense of being in a consultation with Professor Boyages during my journey.

The book is divided into three parts – ‘Shock control: Taking control immediately after diagnosis’, ‘Gaining control: Taking control before your surgery’ and ‘Maintaining control: Taking control after your surgery’.

The author takes the reader through the DCIS journey one step at a time describing in detail each new issue. Throughout the text, Professor Boyages stresses the options, positive outcomes and possible problems. He encourages and urges the reader to take control of their diagnosis and treatment options.

The book includes an extensive list of suggested important questions that you may wish to ask your treatment team, from your first visit of your journey to your final visit. Professor Boyages suggests that you take a pen and paper to each visit to write notes, have your questions written down in advance and not to be afraid to ask questions.

He recommends you always ask for your reports, to keep them in order by date and to take someone with you to your appointments.

Reading this book took me back to my early journey. The information at that time was limited for consumers though my surgeon always answered my questions and kept me informed.

During and after reading this book, my choices concerning my treatments have been endorsed and I would still make the same decisions as I have made. I feel that I have taken control.

At the end of the book there is a list of useful websites, if you need them.

Whether you are newly diagnosed or quite a way along your journey, consider this book as your tool to help you take control and navigate your pathway. 

Purchase DCIS of the breast: Taking control by Professor John Boyages, MD, PHD from Professor Boyages' website

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