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Mr. 80 Percent

Prostate cancer: A reading list

Suggested reading to help you navigate life as a cancer patient.

aram boghosian for the boston globe (CUSTOM_CREDIT)


I read a lot about prostate cancer after I was diagnosed. I needed to. I didn’t know anything. I scoured the websites of the American Cancer Society, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, among others.

There’s a ton of information online, but some of it is bogus. For example, there’s no scientific evidence that capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers, causes prostate cancer cells to kill themselves. Eating dozens of habaneros a day will not cure you, but charlatans nonetheless swear it’s true. Other articles were interesting, but too clinical to digest. (See: “A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Studies Exploring Men’s Sense of Masculinity Post-Prostate Cancer Treatment.”)

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Here, then, are a few books I found helpful as I tried to navigate life as a cancer patient:

Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer (Dr. Patrick Walsh and Janet Farrar Worthington)

This is a thick book — the edition I read ran to 600 pages — but for a medical text, it’s strangely not boring. Walsh was the director of the renowned Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins and a surgeon — he pioneered the landmark nerve-sparing prostatectomy. He addresses all aspects of prostate cancer, from risk factors to treatment options to continence and potency.

Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers (Dr. Mark Scholz and Ralph H. Blum)

The authors are rightly skeptical of the multibillion-dollar industry that’s been built up around prostate cancer, noting that a lot of men still get treatment they don’t need for a disease that, in many cases, won’t kill them. Often, an elevated PSA leads immediately to a biopsy, which leads to surgery. This book urges men to slow down and consider their options — all of them.

Man to Man: Surviving Prostate Cancer (Michael Korda)

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The author, an Englishman, is a writer who became editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. In the 1990s, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and wrote this candid and compelling memoir about his experience, including his not-totally-satisfying dealings with Dr. Patrick Walsh. Korda’s book won’t save your life, but it might make you feel less alone.

Illness as Metaphor (Susan Sontag)

My wife recommended this exquisitely written little book, which makes the case that metaphors and myths about cancer compound the suffering of those contending with it. The author — herself a cancer patient while writing the book — argues that cancer is often viewed as a curse, something to be embarrassed about, and not as what it is: A disease that can be cured. She’s right. I encountered many people — men and women — who couldn’t fathom why I’d want to talk about my experience. “Illness as Metaphor” was published in 1978, but it’s as relevant as ever. Unfortunately, attitudes haven’t changed much.

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End (Atul Gawande)

This smart book put things in perspective for me. When age and illness intervene, as they inevitably do, survival at all costs isn’t what’s important. Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and a professor at Harvard, contends that quality of life should be the goal for patients and their families.




Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.