Author Will Sperduto is a graduate of Duke University, with a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and global health and a master’s degree in biomedical sciences. He is planning a career in medicine. Cartooncology is his first book. He seeks to “strengthen the humanity in medicine by continuing to contribute to the advancement of medical education and patient care.”
To celebrate the release of his book, MK asked him a few questions.
What is this book? Cartooncology: Thoughtful Images of Cancer is a collection of illustrations that introduces individuals of all ages and backgrounds to different ways of thinking about the illness. These graphic medicine images help patients, caregivers, students, and health professionals visually learn from, and cope with, cancer.
What is the backstory of the book? Why did you make it? What started out as a final project in my Visual Cultures of Medicine class at Duke University became an insightful and reflective 84-page journey through moments of vulnerability and strength with cancer patients and their families. MK Czerwiec and Dr. Kimberly Myers gave me a box of crayons, reminded me that everyone can draw, and encouraged me to develop my own style of cartooning. As a Duke Cancer Center volunteer, I saw patients and families struggle to understand their cancers and sought to communicate their stories meaningfully and compassionately. Along the way, I learned about graphic medicine and two guiding principles: (1) patients with similar diagnoses may have different ways of understanding and coping with their illness; (2) illness means different things to different people. Furthermore, in order to express my appreciation for patients’ resiliency, their willingness to be open, and the enjoyable memories I made as a volunteer, I designed Cartooncology – a tool that invites diverse interpretations and accesses emotions and thoughts that readers may not process otherwise – in hopes of strengthening the humanity in medicine.
What challenges did you face in making it? Transforming waiting room conversations into cartoons challenged my imagination. Weighing feedback to ensure adjustments remained consistent with the book’s mission was tricky. Overcoming these challenges allowed me to discover an aptitude for deep, empathic listening and to create a book that amplifies the voices of others.
What surprises have you found in making it? How have people responded to it? Everybody knows somebody whose life has been touched by cancer. Sharing my illustrations with others has led to many unexpected intimate conversations. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Exchanging feedback was difficult at times but necessary. I am grateful for the cancer patients, friends, and families whose constructive comments and collaborative spirit truly made this book possible.
How do you hope this book is used? I envision Cartooncology being used to enrich experiences in waiting rooms, art therapy and support group sessions, and medical humanities programs. In waiting rooms, the illustrations will serve as colorful, engaging metaphors that hopefully welcome introspection. In more guided settings, Cartooncology can be an interactive workbook; health professionals and professors may handpick personally relevant images for patients and students who will draw their own version and further process the cancer experience.
Check out sample cartoons and purchase your own copy!