GS vs STA: Cancer Surviving Heroines

If you’ve been on the Twittah, you might have seen my minor campaign for anyone under the age of 40 to Get Thee a Mammogram This Year. If you can do it, and if it’s possible in your budget and under your insurance, get a mammogram. Not only does it give doctors a baseline for future comparison, but there are more women in my world who are diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 40 than I ever believed possible. And, from what I have learned, women under 40 who do receive diagnoses often are in later stages by the time the cancer is caught. So if you’re thinking of getting your physical this year, ask about getting a prescription for a mammogram, too. (End soapbox).

With that in mind, I have a request for reading material from a woman currently kicking cancer’s ass: Bianca needs some help.

So about two months ago, right before my 31st birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. (Let me tell you – worst birthday present EVAR. I’m working on returning it, but it’s kind of a pain.) I have since had a bi-lateral mastectomy, and I’m now going through chemotherapy, which will followed by radiation. I’m out of work on medical leave while I undergo treatment and reading is one of my main distractions/time fillers.

A couple weeks ago I was browsing through novels on my nook and came across a book called Hannah’s List by Debbie Macomber. Well after reading the description I’ll admit I almost lost it – young widower who’s wife recently died of cancer who’s supposed to find a new love? Just a leeetle too close to home. Just reading the sample almost made me cry. I backed out very quickly. It’s probably a great book, but it’s just not something I can read right now.

But it got me thinking – surely there are romance novels out there about cancer survivors, right? (If not, man, someone needs to get on that!) I’d love to read a romance novel where the heroine (or hero!) is a cancer survivor. Since my diagnoses I’ve heard so many positive stories about people who have kicked cancer’s ass and are living awesome, healthy lives, so I don’t know why I shouldn’t get that same positivity in my reading material, right? I want to read about people surviving, thriving, and living wonderful loving lives. Hopefully there are some stories like that out there. I know the Bitchery is the best place to turn to find what I’m looking for. I’d love to have some HEAs to read while I’m going through chemo.

Well, one book comes to mind immediately, but the recommendation is itself a bit of a spoiler, so it’s below the fold. That said, if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments. And keep kicking ass, Bianca. We’re rooting for you.


In Karina Bliss’ Here Comes the Groom, the heroine is very secretive about shoulder surgery she had prior to the start of the novel. You can guess where that story leads, and my apologies for the spoiler, but oh, my gosh, is that series of scenes incredibly moving.


Comments are Closed

  1. Anne Stuart says:

    My friend Judith Arnold wrote a wonderful book for Harlequin (I forget if it was HAR or Super) called BAREFOOT IN THE GRASS about a breast cancer survivor.  Lovely book, and the American Cancer Society has used it in promotions and stuff when it came out.

  2. Chelsea says:

    First of all, way to go Bianca! I’m a cancer survivor myself (leukemia), I’ve been in remission for 12 years. I’m told that chemo has gotten better since I went through it, but I know how miserable it can be. Stay strong!

    Secondly, I second the recommendation for Here Comes the Groom, that’s such a feel good book. Also, I recently read Barefoot in the Grass by Judith Arnold and loved it—the heroine is quite the fighter. And I’ve your at all paranormal inclined, Lover Eternal by J.R Ward has a heroine who’s been through multiple cancer battles and is still fighting. It’s very touching, and is one of the few Ward books I still recommend.

  3. Patricia says:

    If you don’t mind a real life romance, a young associate of mine (male) met a woman that he thought was pretty special.  When he tried to start a relationship with her, she told him that she had been diagnosed with cancer and was going through treatment.  She told him so that he could back away, but he didn’t.  He decided that he did not mind taking on the sickness part before he got the health part.  He stood by her and supported her as best he could while she went through treatment and, when she was better, they married.  I always have thought that one of the lovliest romances.

  4. Jen G. says:

    Throw in another vote for Here Comes the Groom.  I was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer right after my 23rd birthday and, you’re right—worst birthday present either.  But coming out the other side and being one of those women who’s kicked cancer’s ass?  That rocks.  I can’t wait for you to get there, Bianca.  I’m sending good vibes your way.

  5. Oooh, ooh, me! CRUISE CONTROL by Sarah Mayberry. It’s a Harlequin Blaze, a few years old now, but it’s WONDERFUL. The heroine’s mother died of breast cancer and she has been treated for it, but is in remission. It’s a great story. And HOT! I highly recommend it.

  6. KiriD79 says:

    As a survivor of both breast cancer and Leukemia, I say “Hear Hear” to Sarah.  I had Leukemia when I was 5 years old and Breat Cancer when I was 22.  I am only 31 now and blessedly cancer free. We women need to step up and take care of our bodies.  I wish insurance companies would realize that breast cancer affects both woman and men at all different ages.  If you can’t afford a Mammogram, at least check your self for any strangeness.  Or if you have a Significant Other, let them check for you.  Makes it more fun! 😉 

    @Patricia, that is amazing.  Your friend found a great guy!

  7. The heroine of A Wife Worth Waiting For by Maggie Kingsley is in remission from Hodgkin’s.

  8. You go, Bianca. You’ve got the whole romance community behind you, and all those strong women can’t be wrong.
    There’s a lovely book by Katharine Eagle that I read years ago, and already passed on to somebody else, or I’d have sent it on to you. It’s called The Last Good Man. i don’t think it’s available electronically yet.

  9. Kathryn says:

    It’s very powerful to read books with a supportive message for the issues we face in life.  It’s a spoiler but….

    Home for the Holidays by Sarah Mayberry was a great one for the emotional work of facing illness.

    I married a man soon after he was diagnosed with cancer in his early thirties.  We’re not married anymore – only because curing cancer didn’t cure ornery as well!  And we’re friendly grandparents of a cute 6 year old.  Life has taught me that “bad” almost always gets better than it seems possible at the time.

  10. Breast cancer survivor, yo. I had my mammogram a couple years early on the grounds that there was already a history of cancer in my family, and fortunately, they caught me REALLY early. I only had to do a single mastectomy and radiation, no chemo. Reconstruction surgery after, so I have weird scarring in places that’d probably give romance novel heroines all SORTS of self-esteem issues. So yeah. Mammograms. Do ‘em.

    And high five, fellow cancer survivors.

  11. Rebecca says:

    Jayne on Dear Author recently recommended Barefoot in the Grass

  12. Tweedy says:

    The Older Woman, by Cheryl Reavis, is about a wounded veteran and his nurse (and ultimate HEA)—who is a breast cancer survivor.  The cancer is not central to the plot, but is an essential part of of understanding the heroine.  The book is also unusual because it is told completely from the point of view of the hero. 

    It’s in the Harlequin Blogger Bundle IX: Dear Author in e-format, or available used fairly cheaply.

  13. Hang in there, Bianca! As the wife of a cancer survivor, I can tell you there is life (and hair. Curly hair) after chemo.

    Not a romance, but Marcia Talley, herself a 15-years-and-going survivor of breast cancer, writes a terrific cozy mystery series about Hannah Ives, a BC survivor. In the first in the series, Sing it to Her Bones,
    she’s just recovering from mastectomy and treatment.

    Hope that link works. I’m really bad at using any html in comments.

  14. cleo says:

    I have one to avoid – Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice.  The cover blurb makes it sound like the sort of triumphant love story you’re looking for, but it’s not – it’s a tearjerker instead.

  15. JoyK says:

    Can I also give a shout-out for getting a colonoscopy on schedule? Yuck, just had mine and glad it is over. 

    DON’T wait.  My sister-in-law with no risk factors and younger than 50 (the recommended date for first colonoscopy) was being screened for another problem when something suspicious was noticed and she had a colonoscopy. Yep, cancer but caught early and its been 5 years. 

    If you’re 50 and haven’t had your first colonoscopy, as awful as the prep for the procedure is, cancer is worse.  Don’t put off your regular cancer screenings.  They can save your life.

  16. Linda says:

    I got a mammogram at 35 (and a biopsy) because of some rando lumps that they were pretty sure were benign (and were), but it was very useful to have that handy when I had another one around the time I turned 39 (just on principle), so they could compare the two and see whether anything changed. (It didn’t.)

    I’m about six months past my 40th birthday, so I gotta go back for another one, but it is indeed good to have something to go by once you get into the higher-statistical-risk part of your life. I have often considered it a blessing in disguise that I wound up getting that stuff done when I did, despite the fact that nothing really came of it. (The biopsy, incidentally, wasn’t of the original lumps I was having checked. It was of an entirely DIFFERENT thing they saw on the mammogram. That’s how common it is to have something they’ll have to check out when you have a mammogram—especially, I think, your first, when there’s no point of comparison.)

    So I agree. I have often said—mammograms are NOT THAT BAD. They are uncomfortable and awkward but not as agonizing as many people would have you believe, and the technology has improved. Get it done! You’ll be glad.

  17. AgTigress says:

    I have often said—mammograms are NOT THAT BAD. They are uncomfortable and awkward but not as agonizing as many people would have you believe, and the technology has improved.

    Actually, they are extremely painful and panic-inducing for some women, and maybe not so bad for others, so it isn’t really helpful to say that they are not as bad as some people say.  It’s a bit like telling a pregnant woman that childbirth is ‘not that bad’.  It isn’t, for some, but for others, it is.  We all experience these things differently.  I have always gritted my teeth and had mammograms done regularly, for all the excellent reasons people have given, but I have had major dental procedures (root fillings) done that I have found less unpleasant.  For those of us who have real issues with compression of body-parts, a bit like a form of claustrophobia, irrational fear is added to the physical pain.  I panic when a blood-pressure cuff is inflated, too.  On the other hand, I don’t much mind having needles stuck into me, something that many other people loathe.  The cheese-press technology hasn’t improved, to my knowledge, during the 30 years or so since I first had it done.  It’s exactly the same.

    So I would say, ‘you may indeed find that a mammogram is a painful and scary experience — but you still need to face up to it.  It is worth the agony’.

  18. Mags says:

    This is so close to home – diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 three years ago and unfortunately leukaemia 18 months later, due to the treatment I received fro breast cancer.

    I second the check yourself advice; I wasn’t due a mammogram for another 13 years in the UK (they start at 50 in the UK) and I found the lump.

    I wish I’d asked this question during my time on chemo; though I had a fab friend who sent lots of Jennifer Crusie (‘cause she is just good) and YA (as it was just the right level.)

    I also read my Lisa Kleypas back catalogue 🙂

  19. Rachel says:

    Since you mentioned Debbie Macomber…

    One of the main heroines in her novel The Shop on Blossom Street is a two-time cancer survivor. She opens a knitting shop in a quest to start a new life, now that she’s kicked cancer’s ass, and bonds with a bunch of different women (who, of course, are having their own crises). And she meets a cute UPS guy!

  20. PamG says:

    Bianca, I’ll be rooting for you, though I have no book recs for you.

    I just wanted to say to the young and uninsured, check out your local Planned Parenthood; they were there for my daughter when she finished college.

  21. John J. says:

    Good Shit That Might Be Shit to Avoid:  Things I Know About Love by Kate LeVann.  I read it on Dear Author.  It’s a YA, and the ending is totally a tear-jerker (sorry!) but it’s SUCH a wonderfully simple book about an English girl in remission.  She goes off to America, lives her life to the fullest, and meets a wonderful guy.  I just wish the ending didn’t make me cry.  (On second thought, this book might be depressing because of the non-HEA involved, so it might be more on the avoid end…)

    Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison is another one of those YA novels that has great writing, a wonderful romance, but a TEAR JERKER ENDING.  Damn.  I’m sorry I can’t recommend anything with an HEA to you.  Angela writes a wonderful romance, though.  If only it had an HEA (which is apparently a problem with YA novels about people with possible life-threatening diseases.) 

    Shit to Avoid:  Anything – and I mean ANYTHING by Lurlene McDaniel.  Seriously, if you have to try her, find a used copy of one of her books or read it in the store.  Pretty much all of her YA novels feature one (or both) of the coupled teens having some kind of disease.  She’s cheesy, and I think a lot of the stories involve the person dying (at least the one I tried to read and eventually found a summary of online.) 

    Okay, maybe this post should just completely be labelled Shit-To-Avoid.  T_T Power to you for fighting the cancer and getting enjoyment from reading, though!  My mother had her mom die of cancer when she was only eight years old.  Seeing my mother raise me has given me a big appreciation for the kind of stuff that cancer can do to a family, and I’m glad that you have been strong enough to pull through it.

  22. BellaBetty says:

    Seconding the avoid warning for Cloud Nine by LuAnne RIce. The cover blurb is all about her beating cancer and getting on with her life, but that’s not how it plays out. Totally NOT HEA. I never would have read it if I had some clue it was really sad, not uplifting.

    Over time I have learned that death, disease, suffering are a big part of LuAnne’s books. Not everyone’s cup of book.

  23. Liz says:

    Here are a few titles that turned up when I did a quick search:

    Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

    Seaview Inn by Sherryl Woods

    Mystery of the Mermaid by Merla Zellerbach

    Cancer Vixen: A Ture Story by Marisa Machetto (not a romance, actually a rather funny graphic novel)

    And on the YA side of things : Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie and its sequel After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick (the second one is more focused on the cancer survivor aspect, but they are both fantastic and funny.  THey are not too romantic, though.)

  24. Chelsea says:

    Also as a silly but happy word of hope: I was born with awful, thin stringy brown hair. After my chemo, it came back a thick wavy dirty blond. It was like a little reward 😀

  25. Amy R. says:

    I don’t have any book recommendations, but I’d like to offer my services if you need someone to talk to.

    I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 29.  It was the roughest summer I ever went through.  I’m now almost 4 years cancer-free.

    I know what it’s like to go through that and not have someone your own age to talk to.  If you need to talk to somebody, I’ll be happy to give you my e-mail address.

  26. AgTigress says:

    Not quite on-topic, but Barbara Delinsky, who wrote some excellent category romances in the 1980s and now writes what I suppose would be classed as ‘women’s fiction’ has written a non-fiction book about surviving breast cancer.  I haven’t read it, but she is a good writer, and I would expect it to be an encouraging and inspiring work.

  27. Kiersten says:

    Definitely the blossom street series, I LOVE those books, except for Hannah’s List, surprisingly.
    Also, Beach Lane by Sherryl Woods. it just came out and it’s the second to last in the Chesapeake Shores series. I have to say it’s one of my favorites. The heroine gets diagnosed and goes through treatment in the book. BUT you need to read the other books in order to really understand the relationship between the hero and heroine.

    and I agree about getting the girls squished. My GYN put in the recommendation for me to start at 30 due to family history of breast cancer. That gives me two more years of relying on self exams and the gropes of the hubby LOL.

  28. MaryD says:

    Hang in there Bianca!
    Everyone’s already mentioned some great books and I’ll second and third them.  I’d also like to tell all to watch out for ovarian cancer symptoms—it’s hard to diagnose but one very deadly killer.  I was diagnosed in ‘08 w/ stage 3 and have been very, very lucky.  So push for the mammograms, colonoscopies and have your GYN also keep an eye out for ovarian cancer!

  29. Cakes says:

    Kick Cancer’s Ass, Bianca!

  30. ashley says:

    I could be wrong, but didn’t the heroine in the first bdb book go through cancer?

    SPOILER: of course, hers is healed by magic, so that might upset some people

  31. Anne Scott says:

    One of the books I edited quite a while ago, I really loved: Snowbound by Larissa Ione. Being a cancer survivor is a bit of a spoiler, but integral to the love story.

    Best of luck in your recovery, Bianca, and I hope you find many hours of positive reading in this thread.

    (I can also second Home For the Holidays!)

  32. I want to add my recommendation for Judith Arnolds book. I read it when it first came out and it is AMAZING. I still recommend it to people and I do believe it has recently been reissued as an ebook.

    God bless you in your journey and recovery Bianca. I have a good friend who is a six year survivor and you can do it as well. Good Luck!

  33. kisah says:

    Fran Drescher’s Cancer Schmancer was really funny, even though it’s not a romance….

    Kick some cancer ass!  🙂

  34. I’m a twenty year survivor of bone cancer this year (was diagnosed a few weeks before my 16th birthday—what’s the deal with cancer and birthdays?) and I could NOT have done it without the positive vibes I got reading romance. Kick cancer’s ass, Bianca!

    I second the recs for HERE COMES THE GROOM and HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. It’s not cancer, but you might also try Toni Blake’s WHISPER FALLS. The heroine has a chronic illness yet still manages to get her HEA.

  35. To the person who reccommended colonoscopies. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. I’ve been getting them since my late 30’s. My mother and my aunt both died from colon cancer not caught in time. My mother was 42 and my aunt 54. I have been nagging my brothers and they all go it done. One of them had polyps but they were so far in his colon they had to do surgery to remove them. Luckily they got it all. He will be doing his follow up.
    As was said earlier the prep is worse than the exam but not as bad as cancer.
    Ok getting off my soapbox

  36. Karina Bliss says:

    I’d like to second AgTigress’ recommendation of romance author (and breast cancer survivor) Barbara Delinsky’s non fiction anthology. It’s called Uplift and is full of inspiring stories from women diagnosed with breast cancer. It was an invaluable resource when I was researching Here Comes The Groom.
    All the best for your recovery, Bianca.

    Karina Bliss

  37. Jessica E says:

    This is a Christian book, which I know that a lot of people avoid, but it may possibly be the best book I have ever read.  It made me cry, which I hate to do, but had a happy ending at the end and even had romance.  It’s called Reconstructing Natalie and it’s by Laura Jensen Walker.  I will definitely add getting a mammogram to my list of things to chat with my gyno about at my next visit later this month.

    Bianca, go kick cancer’s derriere!

    Oh and if you need something inspiring to listen to, check out Rascal Flatt’s Skin, or Sara Beth as it is commonly referred to.  The song is about a sorority sister of mine and not only does it have a happy ending (she’s been cancer free for years now!!!) but she’s actually engaged to be married to an amazing guy.

  38. Cait says:

    WISH YOU WERE HERE by Christie Ridgway.  My first book by her and still my Fav. 
        My mom had a mastectomy and radiation about 8 years ago.  Still fine, she’ll be 90 this fall.  She’d had benign cysts for years and then not.  I’m that way too.  So maybe when I’m 81, I’ll be in her shoes.  Hang in there.    and best of luck to you.

  39. I second the rec for Snowbound by Larissa Ione. The hero is healthy and sporty and ready to hit slopes again. It’s a hot, cute story, done well.

  40. Merrian says:

    I worked for many years with Australia’s Breast Cancer Screening program BreastScreen. I have to tell you that mammography is primarily effective as a screening tool for breast cancer in women who have gone through menopause. This is because our breast density changes and the breast cancer shows up more clearly against the changed breast structure. Younger women’s breasts look almost solidly white on a breast x-ray and so does breast cancer. This makes it harder to see breast cancers. This means that mammography does not offer the same outcome as a screening tool to younger women that it does to older women.

    This is also why screening programs in Australia and the UK first offer free breast x-rays to women when they turn 50 or those with a family history (two primary relatives diagnosed or the genetic markers such as BRCA1 and BRCA2) at 40 years.

    When you look at population profiles the largest amount of breast cancer occurs in women over 50. In Victoria where I live, 75% of breast cancer diagnosed each your occurs in women over 50 years.

    The World Health Organisation only recommends screening programs when there is an effective test and when there is an effective treatment possible. Mammograms are primarily effective as a screening tool for menopausal women. What is interesting is how the use of Hormone Replacement Therapy can re-set your breast density to that of pre-menopause and make mammograms harder to read.

    Screening mammography is often confused with diagnostic mammography because the same technology is used in both instances. A mammogram will be used along with ultrasound and perhaps biopsies to check out sypmtoms or if there is an index of suspicion already. It is not used on its own to give a diagnosis.

    In Australia younger women are reminded to be familiar with the look and feel of their breasts and asked to get any changes checked out because the screening tool that is best for them is not mammography.

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