Living with Cancer: The Ultimate Teen Guide (It Happened to Me)

Image of Living with Cancer: The Ultimate Teen Guide (Volume 30) (It Happened to Me, 30)
Release Date: 
March 18, 2011
Scarecrow Press
Reviewed by: 

“It might help teens newly diagnosed with cancer to hear the voices of young survivors . . . But teens with cancer deserve better than what the sidebars offer, which is more fear than fact.”

Claiming to be an “ultimate” may be why Living with Cancer: The Ultimate Teen Guide tries to do too much.

The information provided suffers from too many disjointed starts and stops with sidebars of all sorts thrown in for good measure. The book presents nine chapters that really cover five major topics about what a young patient faces: during and after cancer treatment, when trying to keep up with school demands, when rebuilding a life after treatment ends, and when helping others as a cancer-survivor volunteer.

Living with Cancer also addresses issues faced by teenagers who have a family member with cancer. Interspersed within this information are suggested relevant books and movies along with vignettes of young patients describing their feelings while coping with cancer. The sidebars are a hodgepodge of information of uneven reliability.

Let’s start with what the book does well. Living With Cancer: The Ultimate Teen Guide captures poignantly the emotions of young people dealing with their recurrent cancers. Listen to Amber describe what it felt like to have leukemia come back:

“I really thought I was going to die. They told me they were going to put me to sleep. . . . Usually I could hide my fear or suppress it. I tried to be strong because I had to be, but at moments like that, I was terrified. The treatments are so dangerous that the nurses have gloves up their arms. It makes you think, ‘Why are you putting this poison in me, when you don’t even want to touch it with your own skin?’ It was scary.”

Peter, who faced recurrent osteosarcoma, and was told by the doctor that losing his leg was his best chance to live, described his choice to amputate as the easiest hard decision he ever had to make. Here’s why:

“Every time the cancer came back, that stabbed me through the heart. I’d go for a scan and then get a home call, and it was like something is in your blood again . . . I would switch rooms to try to get a view of a tree. I painted a lot of birds. It always felt good to see a bird. It’s a simple life. The bird doesn’t know about cancer. They are just birds thinking about worms. I wanted to be a bird.”

Libby admits “When friends at school are talking about their bad hair day, and maybe you don’t have any hair at all—that makes it difficult to relate to them . . . for most people, it was too time-consuming to deal with me.”

And from a cancer survivor’s journal comes the confusion a teen can experience after cancer: “I love myself. I hate my body. And it’s not even that I hate my body, I just hate how it is scarred by my past . . . a past that I wish I could just leave behind me.”

Now let’s turn to what the guide lacks—good sidebars containing properly chunked reputable information. One sidebar entitled Bone Marrow or Stem Cell Transplant only explains bone marrow transplants, yet many young patients would want to know about the stem-cell-transplant procedure, which involves removing only peripheral blood from a donor.

Two other sidebars make unsubstantiated claims about the dangers of cosmetic chemicals. One even recommends a book that claims to expose the dangers of makeup. Another announces Five Fun Ways to Prevent Cancer with Exercise—which could inadvertently make a teen patient think it was their inactivity that made cancer return. Still another throws ionizing radiation from atomic bombs, cosmic rays, radon, and cancer treatments all in the same box without providing a scale to help the teen understand and interpret the different levels of risk linked to each source.

It might help teens newly diagnosed with cancer to hear the voices of young survivors that are captured in this guide, and young patients who have completed therapy may find the suggestions about volunteering helpful. But teens with cancer deserve better than what the sidebars offer, which is more fear than fact.

Living with Cancer: The Ultimate Teen Guide is the 30th book in a series of This Happened to Me guides. This makes the volume all the more disappointing because producing 29 earlier titles provided editors with ample opportunity to hone the process and achieve a better layout and better content.