Friday, August 7, 2015

The Literature of Caregiving: Cancer Vixen

Graphic novels—also called “comics” --have become so popular with readers of all ages that many bookstores have stopped segregating them on a single shelf and now integrate them with traditional books and related categories: fiction, nonfiction, parenting, health, memoir. 
This year Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home was adapted for Broadway and became the Tony award-winning Best Musical of 2015. So it makes sense that graphic novels and graphic memoir are having a moment. So we can find them in the Literature of Caregiving and The Literature of Cancer genre.
One of the graphic/comic cancer books that I especially love is Marisa Acocella’s Cancer Vixen. Acocella had long been a cartoonist for The New Yorker, Glamour and Modern Bride magazines when she took a flying leap and wrote a book about her experience with breast cancer. 
Diagnosed just a few months before her wedding, Acocella provides a powerful visual story about getting the news, her changing relationship with her fiancé/husband, and the trials of treatment and the terror of being uninsured. 
Acocella also includes her dilemmas dealing with shoes, clothes, lipstick, girl friends, shopping and tribulations at her job, making it one of the funniest and most honest cancer stories. It is a mad combination of Girly-Girl advice and fierce advocacy.
Another graphic (in every sense) book about cancer is “Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person” by Miriam Engelberg. Engelberg was a cartoonist living in San Francisco and her book is a memoir created by a series of comics that take us through her cancer journey—first diagnosis, treatments, family, workplace, second diagnosis, more treatments and her internal reactions.
A couple of things set this work apart from Cancer Vixen: unlike Marissa Acocella, Engelberg was not a trained cartoonist, but her outsider-naïve style lends an air of vulnerability and immediacy to the work. Unlike Cancer Vixen, Engelberg’s book does not have a happy ending. She died a few months after the book was published.
Both of these books are funny and inspiring. At the center of each story is a view of the ways that many of us react to difficult things. For Acocella and Engelberg it’s cancer, for you or a friend it could be divorce, aging, trouble with kids etc.Yes, there is humor in these stories, as well as pain and hope and honesty.
The Literature of Caregiving is a monthly series here at Love in the Time Of Cancer. 

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