Why Cancer Patients Should Read … Romance by Jenna Shillinburg

I can hear some of the groans through the internet. Romance novels are so cliché you may be thinking to yourself. But the truth is, Romance novels have been given a bad reputation through decades of Fabio covers and cookie-cutter writing. The genre itself has changed and become much more diverse (especially after the RITAs debacle in 2020 in which the elite award ceremony for the Romance Writers of America was found to be discriminatory). I’m here to tell you that all books have value and Romance novels can help cancer patients more than any other genre.

For cancer patients and people living with terminal cancers, escape is an important part of coping. Sometimes getting away from our own thoughts is necessary, and, again, I recommend reading fluffy books as a treat and an escape as long as you have a healthy coping system and people you can talk to in order to exorcise your negative thoughts. Don’t tamp down your emotions or they will become bigger and scarier and harder to avoid. Many modern Romance novels use humor and hilarious situations to entertain the reader. Sophie Kinsella is a master at putting her heroine in the most awkward situations and letting her fight her way out. Can You Keep a Secret is one of my absolute favorite Romance novels because the humor and storytelling style grabs you right from the beginning.

Jenna’s favorite Romance novel

Modern-day Romance also offers lessons to men and women suffering from body positivity issues. If you’ve had any cancer treatment at all, your body has gone through the wringer and doesn’t (and won’t) feel like your old body. Dealing with an Adjustment Disorder is another challenge of the big C, but it’s okay, there’s a book for that. Dumplin’, Puddin‘, and Pumpkin by Julie Murphy all feature heavier protagonists. In fact, there’s an entire subgenre of “Fat Positive” Romance including There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon and Act Your Age Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert. For working through anxiety, I recommend Again But Better by Christine Riccio or The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood.

There are TONS of subgenres of Romance. One of my personal favorites is Neurodivergent Romance where the main protagonist has autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, dyslexia, etc. Having struggled with brain fog and loss of overall cognitive impairment from chemo, reading novels about neurodiverse characters gives me hope. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion are two of my favorites, but there are so many more.

Now for the elephant in the room: SEX. Yes, Romance novels often include sex BUT there is a scale of what I call Spicy-ness and there are plenty of romance novels without the steamy bits. However, many breast cancer patients suffer from sexual side effects such as loss of libido, and romance novels can help with that. Do you know the largest sexual organ in the body? It’s your brain How you think about sex matters and reading about sex can really help your struggling body. Remember, this is just a suggestion and it’s perfectly okay to abstain altogether. I am on a lifelong regimen of hormone suppressants and now identify as asexual, and that is okay too. But if you want to try exercising your brain’s sexual powers, I recommend reading The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory or Act Your Age Eve Brown by Talla Hibbert.

Once again books have the power to heal different aspects of our being. Even if we are just reading to read, books teach the reader how to care about people who are different from us. (also known as EMPATHY).

As a personal reader’s advisory: If you enjoy bodice-ripping romance novels – can you recommend some good ones to me? I’m always up for exploring a different genre.

Thank you for joining me and I hope your brain finds time to slip into something more comfortable or an exciting new genre.

Take care and check me out on the first Friday in May when I talk about all things bookish. For questions or comments, please write to thebookhangoverisreal@gmail.com or follow me on Instagram @thebookhangoverisreal

2 responses to “Why Cancer Patients Should Read … Romance by Jenna Shillinburg”

  1. shiraneudugmailcom Avatar

    Jenna, thank you for addressing the topic of cancer and sexuality so openly, and for discussing the benefits of escape (in this case, in form of romance novels). It is really refreshing to hear about books with more diverse protagonists. In addition, there are stories with more diverse couples as well, which is meaningful for the variety of readers in the world.


    1. Thanks, Shira. I will pass along your comment to Jenna.


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