Years ago, I read Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s graphic memoir Cancer Vixen and LOVED it. The cartoonist, who lives in Manhattan, tells the true story of finding a lump in her breast at age 43. “You don’t know if you’re going to live, if you’re going to lose your hair, if you’re even going to get treatment since you don’t have insurance,” she says. For our final breast essay, I talked to her about her experience…
“My diagnosis came at the worst time. I was 43. My career was going well — I was a cartoonist for The New Yorker and Glamour, where I had a column about dating, friends and life in the city. And I was engaged to be married. It was a really happy time. And then three weeks before the wedding, I went to my doctor because of a little bronchitis, and his stethoscope bumped into a lump. Two hours later, I found myself in a breast surgeon’s office getting a sonogram. He said, ‘We’ll aspirate the tumor to see if the cells are angry.’ I thought, Angry cancer cells, hmmm. I was considerably freaked. Freaked is an understatement.”
“I was walking down Hudson River Park with my best friend Bob. I was pretty depressed with dirty hair, looking upset. I told him I was going to write about my experience for my Glamour column, and he said, ‘What are you going to call it?’ And I said, ‘Breast Case Scenario.’ He was like, ‘Whaaaaat? That is terrible. You look like a victim! Where’s my vixen?’ And we both looked at each other, and he said, ‘Cancer Vixen.’ So, I drew myself as a cancer-kicking vixen. I drew a cartoon of the angry cancer cells giving me the finger; it felt great to say fuck you right back!”
“When I had cancer, I felt like, Why do things you don’t want to do? Life is so finite. Using the cancer card taught to me to say no, and I still keep that up nowadays.”
“My mom was especially helpful. She has a big Sagittarian mouth and she would speak up to doctors when I needed her to. I drew her with rose-colored glasses because she actually wears rose-colored glasses. She likes to see the world that way. It’s about positivity. It’s also part vanity because she doesn’t like putting on eye makeup.”
“Journaling was really empowering. I brought my sketchpad to my chemo treatments; I’d sketch with an IV in my hand. When I put my experience on the page, it felt as if it were outside of me. I was looking at it, I was telling cancer that I was going to kick its ass. I always recommend that people write stuff down when there’s a traumatic moment in their life. It makes you feel like you have a voice. I felt so much better and stronger. You can find the humor in things; somehow you can make yourself laugh.”
Thinking of everyone brave out there today!
(Illustrations excerpted from Cancer Vixen.)