The New York Times has a great review of Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s comic strip turned memoir about her experience with breast cancer.
She gives us haunting drawings of cancer’s victims, whom she places up in the clouds, still grouped in the “cancer clusters” in which they died. (Remember Love Canal?) But mostly, Marchetto’s cartoons in this book are ebullient: cancer cells under the microscope are little green circles sticking out their tongues and giving you the finger; the grim reaper wields a vacuum cleaner; her higher self is a floating, one-eyed yogi with amazing abs.
But “Cancer Vixen” isn’t all silliness. There are important lessons about treatment options and insurance (women — like Marchetto herself — who are uninsured at the time of their diagnoses have a 49 percent greater risk of dying from breast cancer). Too many women don’t know and aren’t told about lymphedema, a chronic and extremely painful condition that can occur after surgery to remove the sentinel lymph nodes, and is often brought on by avoidable circumstances like postsurgical exposure to extreme temperature or lifting heavy objects. Marchetto’s sunny drawings comfort and amuse while providing a beneficial education on cancer’s dark details.
Some readers may find Marchetto’s self-proclaimed “fabulista life” hard to relate to. But perhaps she can be forgiven a little gloating because she has also shared, in visually invigorating and fairly unflinching detail, everything about her experience with cancer — from her excruciating neulasta shots to her chemo-induced night sweats. Perhaps it’s human nature to remind yourself and others of what’s enviable in your life after you’ve revealed what’s painful and difficult about it.