Cancer in Novels Should Have Warnings!

I love to read. I was an English major as a college undergraduate, and to this day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than curling up with a novel and losing myself in a fictitious story. It’s always been my favorite escape from reality.

I try to avoid books with cancer

As a lung cancer advocate and a person living with lung cancer, I really appreciate having a way to take a break from my daily life when needed. I spend a lot of my time discussing and researching lung cancer and I turn to fiction for a completely different experience. I try to avoid books that involve characters with cancer whenever possible.

Sometimes, a novel I am reading unexpectedly takes a turn in which a character is diagnosed with cancer. While I don’t love this insertion of reality into my fictitious escape, I can usually just deal with it. After all, if it’s not part of the blurb written about the book on Goodreads, it’s usually not a main focus of the plot.

My latest summer reading

However, I just finished reading a popular bestselling book called “In Five Years” by Rebecca Serle. I read the summary on Goodreads and it sounded like it had all my requirements for good summer fiction: some romance and maybe a little bit of time travel. Fantastic! I couldn’t wait to start reading it!

Before I go any further, let me warn you that there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. If you plan to read this book, you should probably stop reading now, unless you are curious about what I have to say.

The surprise cancer plot twist

So, I was reading along happily and very much enjoying the first third of this novel when BAM, a fairly major character is diagnosed with cancer. After this shocking diagnosis, the entire rest of the book is about the cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and treatments. It was very well-written and the author definitely did her research, because nothing was glossed over. There were detailed discussions of stages of cancer, biopsies, CT scans, surgery to “debulk the tumor,” radiation, and a special kind of chemo called “intraperitoneal chemotherapy.” The type of cancer diagnosed wasn’t lung cancer, but reading this novel was definitely far from an escape!

The second two-thirds of the book was basically a “twist” that completely changed the premise of the novel. There was no romance as expected and the “time travel” aspect ended up taking on a completely different and sad meaning. I kept reading because, as I mentioned before, the novel was well-written and I wanted to find out what was going to happen. I couldn’t stop hoping that there would be a happily ever after ending, despite all indications to the contrary.

Should there be a cancer warning?

By the time I finished the book, I was exhausted and felt kind of cheated. If I had known what to expect, I never would have chosen to read this book among the many, many ones I have on my reading list. But, I had absolutely no idea what the book was really about when I first started.

This made me think about those warnings you see at the top of the screen for movies and TV shows that indicate what subjects are involved that might be inappropriate for minors or triggers for other people such as “sex, drugs, and suicide.” I think a book like “In Five Years” could have used a “cancer” warning!

Have any of you ever experienced something like this with a book or movie? If so, please share in the comments so I will know what to avoid in the future!

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