Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, by Miriam Engelberg. Published 2006 by HarperCollins. Click on the cover to buy from your local BookSense-affiliated independent bookseller.
I really had no idea what to expect when I opened up Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, Miriam Engelberg's first-person memoir of her fight against breast cancer. The subject matter almost kept me away entirely, and then I didn't know what to make of her rough, sort of unpolished-looking artwork. Would it be enough to hold my attention?
Well, it turns out I was in for a surprise, because Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person is an honest, raw and quietly emotional look at the impact of living with a life-threatening disease. Engelberg starts at the beginning, from the first tests even before her official diagnosis, and goes through the finality of coming to terms with an uncertain future and living each day not knowing what could happen. What I found most refreshing is how upfront she is about the fatigue, both emotional and physical, that comes with living day to day with a serious illness. She talks openly about feeling bitter, angry and envious of people who don't have cancer, or whose cancer is less serious than hers, or who are in better emotional space than she is. She's not trying to be a saint- she's a real person who gets cranky sometimes, who likes to zone out with the TV and has bad days and isn't afraid to say so.
I got over the lack of flashy artwork once I realized how I was being drawn into the emotional core of the story panel by panel. Engelberg's simple line drawings work really well to convey emotions without calling attention to themselves- I was just focused on the characters, and not on some idiosyncratic, attention-grabbing art, which is how it should be. The art also helps make her someone to relate to- not some artiste, just an ordinary woman.
I think Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person would be a great choice for anyone who's experienced a serious illness, if only to show that you don't always have to smile through it- it's okay to be sad sometimes too. But apart from that, it's great for anyone who likes comics or graphic novels and just wants to spend a little time with an interesting, intelligent woman as she navigates a serious crisis and offers her support to others, in her own way.