When a Cancer Journal Reads Like a Graphic Novel

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I've written before about the overwhelming burden of mass market cancer books, that burden being that they tend to be weighed down by almost universally asinine titles.

This is to say nothing of their contents. Every cancer memoir has value; we hear so much about treatment protocols being uniform for patients with certain cancer subtypes but like the disease itself, no experience is the same between two people, and anyone willing to sit down and pen their journey through cancer treatment is sure to put their own stamp on what they went through.

At the end of the day, what matters most is that they lived to tell the tale.

That said, not every cancer memoir is created equally. Despite their inherent uniqueness owing to the uniqueness of the disease, what separates one cancer memoir from another is what separates any expressive work from another: point of view.

The Value of Perspective

Often, cancer memoirs carry an irreverent point of view. They strive to be funny, to try and take some of the existential sting from the disease. Others want to communicate what cancer means to a child whose parent is going through it. Still others strive to inform the reader of the 'secrets' that led to the author's successful defeat of cancer (these are the most dubious of the bunch).

Every so often, a cancer memoir arrives that is unlike any before it. Its point of view offers a fresh perspective on the disease by delivering it in a manner that truly strikes a chord with a subset of readers.

Matt Freedman's Relatively Indolent But Relentless: A Cancer Treatment Journal is just such a cancer memoir.

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Masterfully reviewed by The Atlantic's Steven Heller (and featuring reproductions of pages I don't have the copyright permissions to reproduce) Freedman's memoir recounting the radiation therapy he required for tumors on his tongue and neck is as much graphic novel and comic book as it is memoir.

Freedom, an artist and educator, received a sketchbook from students and colleagues prior to beginning therapy. In brutally honest, occasionally unrefined, and emotionally exhausting detail, in both words and sketches, Freedman recounts his treatment in a manner only he could, using his own perspective and point of view, calling it "a raw and unconsidered chronicle of things as they happened when I had no idea what was going to happen next."

He tells Heller of some of the book's more big-picture moments: "Knowing I was dwelling on my personal problems while Hurricane Sandy was making life miserable for millions and wars were raging all over the world made me want to mention them to show myself, if no one else, that I still had some fellow feeling and humanity left in me."

Despite looking at events on a macro level occasionally, it is the microscopic details that power the book. "When you are really sick, you don't need illness as metaphor. Illness is enough all by itself."

Freedman's book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and everywhere else books are sold.

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