Author: Alesia Shute
Publisher: Writers of the Roundtable Press, 2011
Information: $14.95 US
I stumbled upon Everything’s Okay the way I usually do; browsing through the memoir shelves at Barnes & Noble. The cover of the book immediately caught my eye – a young girl rubbing noses with her dog. Then I read the subtitle (my journey surviving childhood cancer) and was completely hooked.
This is a good thing.
Everything’s Okay tells Alesia Shute’s life story graphically, all in black and white, using comic book style panels with dialogue balloons over the heads of the main characters. And what an amazing story it is…
Diagnosed at age 7 with cancer of the large intestine and colon, Alesia endures a series of painful examinations and tests, followed by invasive, body-altering surgeries. After two years of drug related treatments, the decision is made to remove her large intestine and bowel. Then Alesia must accept the harsh reality of wearing an ileostomy bag.
What sets this narrative apart from so many others is the child’s point of view. Beyond the pain and discomforts associated with being a cancer patient, beyond the reality of a life threatening illness, young Alesia also has day-to-day challenges of trying to deal with her peers in school. No one wants to be different; young people can be so mean to those who don’t fit in. Even as Alesia is worried about having an accident during class before she can make it to the rest room down the hall, she is tuned in to mean-spirited comments from her classmates.
Multiple hospitalizations. Isolation. Physical changes. The impact of serious illness on the family unit. The author’s words and the illustrator’s vivid images help the reader walk in the shoes of a very young cancer patient trying to cope with challenges beyond her control. And Alesia does cope, admirably, in ways that are beyond her years.
Everything’s Okay follows Alesia’s recovery and gradual integration of her illness into healthy adulthood. How gratifying to experience a young cancer survivor’s “happy ending” that includes marriage and parenthood. The book ends with a description of Alesia Shute’s foundation and ongoing philanthropic support of pediatric AIDS and cancer patients. In fact, 100% of the profits from the book are donated to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
This book was so satisfying that I immediately headed over to my CancerLand bookshelf to see if I had any other graphic novels to share. Yes, indeed.
Cancer Vixen (Marisa Acocella Marchetto. Knopf, 2006), explores the adventures of a cartoonist who finds a lump in her breast and must undergo 11 months of treatment before she can recover and marry her Prince Charming. This colorful graphic memoir ends on a hopeful note:
So what do 29 needles + 18 pounds + 15 radiation technicians + 11 medical assistants + 9 nurses + 8 doctors + $192,720.04 + 2 rabbis + 1 priest =?
It adds up to an experience that has changed me forever…
Our Cancer Year is another graphic novel (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1994) that explores the cancer patient experience. It was written by the late Harvey Pekar, the author, music critic and media personality, best known for his award-winning American Splendor comic series. Our Cancer Year follows Harvey’s year of treatment for lymphoma with his wife Joyce Brabner functioning as both caregiver and co-author.
As always, I am pleased to recommend these special books to you, whether you are a patient interested in seeing the cancer experience through someone else’s eyes, or a clinician or caregiver interested in the patient’s point of view.