A stack of books recommended for patients diagnosed with breast cancer by naturopathic oncologist Dr. Laura James, ND, FABNO. The overlay text says "Reading List: for acceptance, connection, and transformation."

A Reading List for Challenging Times

Acceptance can be difficult when you have been diagnosed with breast cancer. You may feel angry, scared, or even hopeless. It is hard to find connection and understanding, because although women may have a breast cancer diagnosis in common, no two women process their diagnosis in the same way. Allowing yourself to feel your feelings when everything seems to be falling apart might seem like an impossible task – especially when as a woman, societal norms ask us to keep it all together.

I put together this book list to help you look at this time in your life through multiple perspectives and disciplines. It includes the power of both narrative and science; fiction and nonfiction. Each of these books come from either my personal book stack or from the stacks of women in the midst of transformation (chosen or not), seeking acceptance for their circumstances (not necessarily approval), and connection with others in this very real process of being a woman.

​​Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain. Cain shows how a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain, whether from a death or breakup, addiction or illness. If we don’t acknowledge our own heartache, she says, we can end up inflicting it on others via abuse, domination, or neglect. But if we realize that all humans know–or will know–loss and suffering, we can turn toward one another.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings–asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass–offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

Hagitude: Reimagining the Second Half of Life by Sharon Blackie. For any woman over fifty who has ever asked “What now? Who do I want to be?” comes a life-changing book showing how your next phase of life may be your most dynamic yet. As mythologist and psychologist Sharon Blackie describes it, midlife is the threshold to decades of opportunity and profound transformation, a time to learn, flourish, and claim the desires and identities that are often limited during earlier life stages. This is a time for gaining new perspectives, challenging and evolving belief systems, exploring callings, uncovering meaning, and ultimately finding healing for accumulated wounds.

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol by Holly Whitaker. We live in a world obsessed with drinking. We drink at baby showers and work events, brunch and book club, graduations and funerals. Yet no one ever questions alcohol’s ubiquity–in fact, the only thing ever questioned is why someone doesn’t drink. It is a qualifier for belonging and if you don’t imbibe, you are considered an anomaly. As a society, we are obsessed with health and wellness, yet we uphold alcohol as some kind of magic elixir, though it is anything but.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; or on the Segregation of the Queen a Mary Russel Series by Laurie King. In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past. Full of brilliant deduction, disguises, and danger, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first book of the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is remarkably beguiling (The Boston Globe).

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. How can we live our lives when everything seems to fall apart–when we are continually overcome by fear, anxiety, and pain? The answer, Pema Chödrön suggests, might be just the opposite of what you expect. Here, in her most beloved and acclaimed work, Pema shows that moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined. Drawing from traditional Buddhist wisdom, she offers life-changing tools for transforming suffering and negative patterns into habitual ease and boundless joy.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive. Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

Burnout: The secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things–and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish? Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against–and show us how to fight back.

Because women do not experience life, nor a breast cancer diagnosis, in the same way, please take what you need from this list and leave the rest. It is ok that your process from diagnosis and beyond is not the same as those of other women. This time in your life is about accepting the reality of your individual life and choosing the best way forward for you and you alone. Sometimes looking at things from different perspectives can help you understand yourself as a more whole human being.


Please contact Dr. Laura James ND, FABNO if you live in the Bellingham, Washington area and would like to learn more about a naturopathic approach to your wellness, please call 360-738-3230 or CLICK HERE to schedule a consultation.


July 25, 2023

I love you, Dr. Laura!
Thank you for your care in wellness and all the
Knowledge you have gained and share in getting your clients
On the path to health and wholeness.

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