Mom's Cancer
by Brian Fies (Abrams, 2006)

When his mother was diagnosed in 2003 with metastatic Stage IV lung cancer, freelance writer and graphic artist Brian Fies decided to serialize her struggle on the web as a comic, to try and make some sense of the difficulties his family faced in dealing with something that is often referred to as the "terrorist" of all diseases because of its lack of discrimination in who it claims.

For those of you not in the know in terms of cancerspeak, Stage IV is the one you don't want. On a scale of severity (read: survivability), four represents a Sisyphean task. The odds against you are many and the rewards, if any, are few. Yet there is something in some people that simply won't surrender, and their fight, however it commences and eventually turns out, has a way of illuminating their souls in ways that can transform everything and everyone around them.

It's not the way we put astronauts on the moon or the way we decode DNA that makes the human race such a force to be reckoned with in the world, but the way in which we deal with the inevitable that defines our spirit. A final stand against an unbeatable enemy can make an entire life of quiet living suddenly become a work of art; can transform an ordinary woman into a butterfly whose wings contain every color and hue of emotion and convey every stage of belief; can give you hope that one way or another, your life, even if you have to fight for every inch of it, even if you can count the days you have left to live, is worth fighting for simply because it is yours; can make you realize that every living person is unique and has something wonderful to offer us, even if it's in the last months, weeks and days of life.

Mom's Cancer is truly the little story that could. Spreading strictly through word of mouth, and published online in 2004-5, its popularity became an Internet phenomenon. So much so that it was eventually collected and published in book format by Abrams Books. While that meant that it could no longer be published online, 2005 saw Mom's Cancer win the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic, a category created just that year, largely due to the momentum the online strip created.

We all want to leave the world feeling that we've made it a bit better than when we inherited it, and this neat little graphic novel has accomplished so much already that I think Brian's mother would be very happy to see how many inroads her story has made, and on so many levels. This is a graphic autobiography that, along with Cancer Victim, probably really has helped save lives and seen many cancer sufferers through some very dark times. This humorous, informative, but never weighty book, along with Cancer Vixen, would be a perfect read for someone needing a helping hand up during any crisis (hint, hint: if you're looking for a "get well" present for someone you know who is dealing with cancer, a gift basket with two very funny, very inspiring and easily readable books just might be the ticket). And maybe, just maybe, it would help prevent one: at, there's a running tally of people who are working on quitting smoking. The good just goes on.

review by
Mary Harvey

29 March 2008

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