It's hard to imagine laughing out loud while reading a book called The Cancer Monologue Project (MacAdam/Cage, $22, ISBN 1931561222). But, the fact is, I laughed many times. Of course, humor isn't the only emotion expressed in this remarkable volume. Lust, fear, stoicism, doubt, disappointment and exaltation are all here and expressed so remarkably well, it's hard to believe that almost all the writers are amateurs.

The project represents a compilation of writings by men and women whose sole common thread was a diagnosis of cancer. With the assistance of acting/writing coaches Tanya Taylor and Pamela Thompson, each participant developed a piece of autobiographical writing based on their experience with cancer and then read the work in a public appearance. Taylor and Thompson compiled the 30 pieces in the book, which includes passages like these:

  • The next morning I met the doctor. He was the bastard child of H. Ross Perot and George H.W. Bush. After the biopsy he looked at me and said, Becca, it's real important that nothing penetrate your vagina for the next eight weeks. Ya hear me? (Rebecca Dixon)
  • I had cancer of the sphincter muscle. Sphincter . . . It really rolls off the tongue so delicately, doesn't it? Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have a cancer that affected a part of the body that we're more used to talking about. (Blythe Jane Richfield)
  • Cancer has also shut up my inner critic. I finally have the courage and words to talk back to it as fiercely as it talks to me: ÔShut up! So I'm not doing it your way perfectly I'm doin' it! If it's not perfect I'll try again.' (Judi Jaquez) Every piece is as different as the person who wrote it: complex, subtle, fierce, funny, alarming, silly. And that, no doubt, is part of the triumph we share with each writer a zesty individuality that shines through despite the numbing, humiliating experience of cancer treatments. Rosemary Zibart writes from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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