Author: Brian Fies
Format: hardcover and webcomic
Publish Date: March 31, 2006
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc
Catalog ID: ISBN-10: 0810958406 ISBN-13: 978-0810958401
Author website: http://www.momscancer.com
Guest Review by Ed C.
“Mom’s Cancer” by Brian Fies effectively shows a perspective that many people can empathize with, while providing an insightful critique on healthcare. Shown through a smooth and simple art style, it contains lighthearted depictions with serious undertones.
First created as an anonymous webcomic and then later presented with an Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic, this book vividly narrates a son’s story of his mother’s fight with lung cancer. The graphic novel is arranged in short strips that slowly piece together this family’s story.
“Mom’s Cancer” makes such an impact because of its honesty. Throughout the course of Mom’s cancer treatment, the son and two daughters are oftentimes portrayed not in their best light. The mother’s struggle with cancer, as well as her children’s struggle to support her, brings to light the humanity of patients and their caregivers, their emotional ups and downs. One strip highlights the difficulty of living at home with an ill person, whereas others can go to their home to escape. This may help health providers relate to what goes on with patients and their caregivers between the hospital visits.
Another way this graphic novel can be used as a resource for medical educators is how it addresses discrepancies in caregiving. For example, during one office visit, the physician kept on smiling, even when talking about a distressing topic. The doctor is depicted with a grotesquely big grin, so the reader could almost feel the son’s restrained anger as he narrates to please stop smiling. The doctor’s unnecessary smile and false compassion shows bad bedside manner, further separating the relationship of the physician with the patient and caregivers.
Throughout “Mom’s Cancer”, Brian also uses illustrated metaphors to relay his points well. In one instance, Brian depicts how his mother got to a specific physician by chance, shown as a game board with various tiles, dices, and game pieces. The picture shows a multi-step process, talking from one person to the next, and how a lot of this process is up to chance, which is an interesting point to reflect upon. Another example is when the author shows the mother experiencing a mini-stroke by saying her whole right side is gone. In this panel, half of her body is literally whited out. Both of these images speak well for themselves, emphasizing their message to the reader.
In conclusion, while “Mom’s Cancer” gives plenty of insight into healthcare delivery from the patient and caregiver perspective, it is primarily an illness story that gives a better understanding of the experiences and emotions that patients and their family exhibit. For healthcare providers, it is a reminder of the humanity of patients and caregivers, and their struggles in living with their new circumstances. For caregivers and patients, it is an enjoyable but serious story, which may bring its own healing to a reader. Whether a healthcare provider, a caregiver, or just a curious reader, I would highly recommend this work for anyone.