When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, my uncle immediately purchased several copies of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, written by one of the foremost researchers on the disease. He gave them to my grandparents, my father, and to my sisters and me. It was a kind gesture that had the welcome effect of helping me feel a shred of control in a terrifying situation: By simply reading this book and learning what was (and would be) happening to my mom--who is now nearly a decade in remission--I was doing something constructive.
For anyone facing a diagnosis today, I would also give a brand-new book called The Silver Lining: A Supportive & Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer. It's written by Hollye Jacobs, R.N., M.S., MSW, a palliative-care nurse and social worker, and mother. Hollye was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer when she was 39, and immediately looked for a book to help her through the long journey ahead. She never found one, so she wrote it.
Her writing is honest, straightforward, never self-pitying, and above all, helpful. Of course every woman's experience is different, but there are enough commonalities to make The Silver Lining an invaluable resource for anyone going through breast cancer. It walks you through her initial breast pain, the shocking meeting with the breast surgeon who diagnosed her, her double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery, chemotherapy (in a chapter aptly called "Chemo Sobby"), radiation, and ends with a topic you don't hear so much about: life after cancer. Throughout the book is lots of practical advice and very useful lists, such as "Questions to Ask Your Oncology Staff" and "Suggestions for Eating During Treatment." There's also an entire chapter devoted to how to talk to your children about your illness and how you can expect them to react depending on their age.
Accompanying the beautiful writing are the stunning photos of Elizabeth Messina, a friend of Hollye's (and mine) who also happens to be an award-winning photographer. Shortly after Hollye's surgery, Elizabeth offered to photograph her--"I'm a professional photographer and I'm your girlfriend. I don't know what on earth else to do for you"--and that gesture led to the project that ultimately became The Silver Lining. Elizabeth's images are not only gorgeous but soothing, and illuminate aspects of the cancer journey we don't often see or think about.
A word about the title. Hollye worked hard to spot "silver linings" daily (and continues to), but this book is grounded in reality. I was interested in Hollye's take on the often-expressed sentiment that cancer can be a gift: "Silver Linings have always provided balance and perspective for me," she writes. "They have never taken away the pain, nausea, sadness, or isolation that came with cancer. ... I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for the Silver Linings, but you'll never, ever, not in a million years, hear me refer to cancer as a gift."
This book, however, is a gift, and giving it to someone you know with breast cancer could be an act as meaningful and memorable as the one I experienced in my family, all those years ago.