‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical CATS’: Society Suggestions from CATS Cambridge

Molly Bolding 16 January 2019

Nicholas Sparks – The Last Song

Nicholas Sparks successfully creates a poignant narrative of a journey of finding love, happiness and hope in the most desperate and despair-inducing times, through the story of 17 year old Ronny, who is caring for her father with late stage cancer.

This book is a powerful testimony of the devastating consequences for the patient, their family, friends and community. Nicholas Sparks gives the reader an insight into the ups and downs of cancer, from the perspectives of multiple family members.

Image Credit: Marshillonline via Flickr

Melanie Conklin – Counting Thyme

Another story about love and family in light of the devastating diagnosis of cancer placed in the background of eleven-year-old Val’s journey to New York in order to participate in a ground breaking new cancer trial.

What makes this book so worth reading is its focus on the courage and sacrifice faced by many in their fight for survival. It touches on the financial, social and familial changes that most patients face in their search for a cure.


Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins – It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey to Another Life

It’s Not About the Bike is the story of one man’s battle against the odds, charting his triumph, tragedy and transformation. It is about Lance Armstrong’s immense courage and will in the aftermath of his battle against cancer.

The book goes beyond the immediate battle with cancer and carefully illustrates the efforts necessary to overcome the consequences of cancer and the process of reintegration into society. Ultimately, it is a story of hope.


Paul Kalanithi – When Breath becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air is Paul Kalanithi’s memoir about his life and illness, as he battles stage IV metastatic lung cancer. This book offers a doctor’s personal experience with cancer, allowing us to experience the journey to health from the perspectives of both doctor and patient.


Sally Nicholls – Ways To Live Forever

This story is about eleven-year-old Sam, who has leukaemia, and his search for the meaning of life. It has a unique charm, wit and is written so elegantly and sensitively that is in equal parts educational about the signs, symptoms and effect of cancer and a powerful story of a young boy’s quest for answers.


John Green – The Faults in Our Stars

Hazel and Augustus are two teenagers with cancer, who meet at a support group. Hazel is reluctant to start a relationship with Augustus due to her terminal condition, but they bond over their favourite novel. Unsatisfied with the ending to the novel, Hazel and Augustus travel to Amsterdam to track down the author, and fall in love in the process. Knowing that their time together is limited, Hazel and Augustus make the most of it and live life to the full.

The book is at times hilarious, but also heart-wrenching. It deals with love, life, death and cancer in a direct but sensitive way. If you prefer to watch things on a screen, the film adaptation is just as good.

Image Credit: theglobalpanorama via Flickr

Siddhartha Mukherjee – The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

An award-winning work of non-fiction, that weaves together the author’s experience as a haematology (studying the blood) and oncology (studying tumours) fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital with the history of cancer and its treatment. It charts the human understanding of the condition from its first identification 4600 years ago, to the current rapid advances in treatment and the future of cancer therapy. The book brings hope that we might one day beat the disease and is a great read for medics and non-medics alike.


Rebecca Skloot – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was a young African American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. During her treatment, her tumour cells were harvested without her consent and have since been used to develop an immortal cell line of ‘HeLa cells’ which are still experimented with extensively by scientists to this day. Rebecca Skloot is a journalist who was determined to discover the story of Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cells, and to bring clarity and justice to Henrietta’s family.

The book is a story of science, medicine, racial inequality and ethics, but at its heart of is an inspiring woman, whose life ended prematurely. The book is a real page turner and of interest for people from all backgrounds.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Austin Duffy – This Living and Immortal Thing

An Irish oncologist’s novel about an Irish oncologist, the latter a jaded post-doc who swapped his clinical work for a research career. Favouring predictability over uncertainty and spending his days tending to his mouse Henrietta (named after Henrietta Lacks above), he falls in love with a Russian translator at the hospital, and begins to question his own attitudes towards cancer, medicine and life. The novel does not skirt around the details of post-doc’s research but instead explaining it in an accessible way, making this as educational and thought-provoking as it is entertaining.


Liz O’Riordan – Anything

Liz O’Riordan is a consultant breast surgeon, who has herself been treated for breast cancer, all whilst training for triathlons. This gives her a unique perspective on the disease, and life. Liz writes an excellent blog, gave a wonderful TED talk and wrote a book, The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer. We can all learn from Liz’s attitude to life, and her work encapsulates the CATS message. so are honoured that she will be speaking before our charity formal at St John’s College on 21st January.

‘You, Me and the Big C’ – BBC radio 5 live podcast

One of the hardest parts of talking about cancer is the stigma. ‘You, Me and The Big C’ is an award-winning podcast by 3 young women who have, or have had cancer, that attempts to tackle this by openly discussing their experiences, along with many guest presenters. It is inspiring, entertaining, and at times heart-wrenching: particularly useful for people who are going through cancer treatment themselves, or who have friends or family who are.  The first episode ‘About Us’ comes with a special recommendation, focussing on understanding how cancer presents and the signs to look for. You can find the podcast here, on the iTunes store, or on any podcast app.


If you’re interested in the work of CATS Cambridge or would like to find out more, they are holding a talk by Liz O’Riordan, ‘Breast Surgeon with Breast Cancer’, on Monday 21st January at 6pm in the Lightfoot Room at St John’s College Old Divinity School. Otherwise, check them out on Facebook and online! This list was compiled with the help of Christine Carter and Louise Rockall from the CATS Education and Awareness team.