This is a book that ended up on my “To Read List” after seeing it on someone’s “Best Graphic Novels of 2009″ list. I just so happened to pick it up in the midst of that ridiculous meme thingy on Facebook – you know, “Tell us what color your bra is”, which was supposedly “in support of breast cancer survivors” but most people didn’t actually know that’s why they were doing it (awareness fail ) and as some breast cancer survivors pointed out, it didn’t really do anything to promote breast cancer awareness and um, hellllooo….some breast cancer survivors don’t even have boobs to put in a bra anymore! (ouch)
Cancer Vixen is a memoir in comic form ,written by Marisa Acocella Marchetto about her experience with breast cancer. Not far into the book, I began to have this feeling that I was going to end up annoyed more than anything. (Ok, fair warning: I plan on being honest about my thoughts and I will undoubtedly sound like a bitch at points). As one review said of Cancer Vixen, it reads as if one of the Sex in the City girls got breast cancer & wrote a graphic novel about it….and I am not into that whole Sex in the City thing. Sex in the Cemetery,sure. Not so much for Sex in the City.
Part of my own personal issue while reading was failing to connect or be interested in The Cancer Vixen herself. Marisa describes herself as shoe-crazy,lipstick obsessed,fashion-fanatic…..yadadayada.Her cartoons are published in The New Yorker & Glamour mag. Her fiance owns the very popular Da Silvano restaurant in NYC (he is Silvano) and drives a Maserati. Me? I own 3 pairs of shoes - a pair of plaid Chuck Taylors, black slip ons and a winter boots picked up second-hand (kids’ size 4, previously owned by “Troy”, as indicated in permanent market labeled on the heels by Troy’s parental unit). I like peppermint lip balm & buy my clothes at yard sales. I get to stay home and be artsy in my pajamas on a daily basis but I don’t get paid for it (or anything else for that matter, even though one would think one should get paid just for being fabulous!). The man I happily live in sin with works in a grocery store and rides the bus. All of which I am perfectly contented with & would be miserable if I switched places with the flip-side.
I was also thinking,”Ok, it’s terrible for anyone to get breast cancer and I’m sorry about the speedbump that life has thrown this chick but what about women like ME? Uninsured, low-income women… with children they could leave motherless!” Because listen,people…if I were to be diagnosed with breast cancer (or any other cancer), I’d be totally fucked and NOT in a way I usually enjoy. The bad way.
FORTUNATELY, Marisa does mention this concern at some point in the story and on her website, there is a page devoted to The Cancer Vixen Fund, a fund dedicated to providing screening for women who could not afford to have otherwise ,since early detection is the key to higher survival rates. As stated on the page, “49% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer and don’t have insurance have a greater risk of dying from the disease.I also added up the cost of treatment I would have paid out of pocket. The total? $192,702.04. Who the heck has $192,702.04?” . Indeed. Not I.
Cancer Vixen has it’s funny moments, as one might expect since the author is a cartoonist. I appreciated the honesty with which she tells and illustrates her story but I still felt like there was something missing – like a depth of emotion.Even in scenes depicting being in the middle of NYC on 9-11, I didn’t feel the tragedy of that day . In all dealings with anything cancer related, I obviously felt sympathy (albeit detached) but I didn’t get the impression that this was a woman grasping the fragility of her own mortality – that this was a mere inconvenience that halted and threw glittery & sparkly plans askew. I can’t believe that the authoress did not wrestle with really deep fears during this time in her life and I would have loved to get a glimpse at that. Those who aren’t familiar with a lot of graphic novels may say,”Hey, it’s a COMIC.It’s not supposed to be deep!”, but on the contrary, “comics” can (and often are) be VERY deep and delve into matters beyond the superficial.What I’m saying is, I appreciate dealing w/ a serious subject by using humor. After all, humor is an amazing survival technique when dealing with harsh reality but it felt too “fluffy” and not emotional enough. To me. Others might appreciate a very light take on a breast cancer survivor when so many memoirs dealing with the topic are obviously dark,sad & emotional. Hormonal & Pregnant Me only cried ONCE during the whole book – and I cry about EVERYTHING these days.
The saving grace of the book is the activist aspect. Like I said before, Marchetto has started a Cancer Vixen Fund and is outspoken on manners relating to breast cancer awareness. She is in a great and powerful position to give a voice to breast cancer awareness and it’s always awesome to be the person who can stand up for the cause and help prevent women from being cancer’s bitch.