Kimiko Tobimatsu, a 25-year-old queer, mixed-race Canadian woman with no history of health problems discovers a lump on her breast. In this powerful and honest autobiographical memoir, depicting her emotional and physical experiences with breast cancer, superbly illustrated by Keet Geniza, the reader weaves through the corridors of this disease with Kimiko. Her story commences with the newly complex life of constant appointments, evaluations, treatments, and the difficult conversations with everyone she cares about as she contemplates having breast cancer. The most appealing aspect of this novel, for me, is how the author and illustrator expand the customary narrative of cancer patients to illuminate the continual issues, rarely discussed, once a patient is deemed “cancer-free.”
“There’s not a lot of writing out there on cancer and disability. Maybe because for those of us who are now cancer-free, the ongoing symptoms are after-effects (of surgery, radiation, meds), not the result of disease still being present. Or maybe it’s because the mainstream cancer narrative is about overcoming adversity, not about experiencing ongoing disability” (92).
Kimiko’s relative youth generates a multitude of additional concerns once the cancer has been contained. She becomes highly aware of her body, its image, the food she consumes, the relationships new and old, being queer, all while becoming attuned for the perpetual need to rest, regroup, and rejuvenate. Her relationships with her family, especially her mother, play a huge role in Kimiko’s self-discovery as does her floundering relationship with her partner. She addresses many popular mindsets, within and outside, the medical profession regarding gender expression, reconstructive breast surgery, reproduction, early menopause, and the stereotypes perpetuated by the ubiquitous “pink ribbon” campaigns. In this compellingly told story, she shares with the reader her discoveries of how she found her own approach to move forward and the energy and dedication that the move demanded on her personally. As mentioned previously this is a robust resource for others who do not see themselves in standard breast cancer tales.
Geniza’s use of muted blues, blacks, and grays intensify the gravity of the situation, highlighting, through the expressive facial portraits, the fatigue and worry that the experience has on all those involved, not only the protagonist. The illustrations add to the tenderness, the pain, and the hope of those within Kimiko’s circle. The illustrations effectively and economically enhance the text in the relating of the narrative and in bringing the characters alive for the readers.
I must add a disclaimer here, your reviewer experienced similar encounters with the upside-down experiences of being diagnosed with breast cancer and its after effects. Kimiko’s story, although quantitatively different, strongly resonated with me as I reviewed her story and especially her disclosures about the aftermath of being “cancer-free”. Ironically, perhaps, I found reading this graphic novel experience joyful and poignant. It reverberated loudly with me although I match the perceived demographic of breast cancer patients in Canada. Her story strongly demonstrates that each person’s experience is uniquely their own, regardless of common, or in this case, uncommon markers of the disease and treatment. It also points to the unexpected interconnections in the shared experiences as well.
This graphic novel is a strong entry in the genre of graphic medicine and should be widely accessible in all public libraries as well as academic library collections highlighting memoirs, health and wellness narratives, and LGBTQ dialogues.
Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir
By Kimiko Tobimatsu
Art by Keet Geniza
Arsenal Pulp, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Queer
Creator Highlights: Japanese-Canadian, Queer, Genderqueer, Disability