By Sima Elizabeth Shefrin
A tender and funny comic about the rarely discussed effects of cancer treatment on one’s sex life. The comic received glowing reviews, including in the Lancet, and was praised by Judy Dench. All the illustrations were originally hand-embroidered.
“This comic tenderly displays a ferocious positivity and determination to persevere in the face of adversity.”
– Jessica Short, The Lancet
Embroidered Cancer Comic is the story of our life after my husband’s 2011 cancer diagnosis. When we learned that Bob had prostate cancer, and not the slow growing kind, we started making cancer jokes. Every time something made us laugh, one of us would say, ‘That goes in the comic.’
I didn’t have to make up much of the script because most of it really happened. Bob has been open about the cancer, and we have worked together on the changes it brought to his body and to our relationship.
As it turns out, a lot of the jokes in the comic are about sex. This is because the surgery included cutting the erectile nerves. In addition, Bob was given testosterone-inhibiting drugs and for a while lost any interest in sexual activity.
Little of the cancer literature talks about this from the partner’s point of view, or about its effect on the relationship. Yet that loss became a part of our daily lives.
I have often used my art to work through life events and to create awareness and conversation about taboo or contentious subjects. But nothing has made me feel as vulnerable as the creation of this comic. At the same time it has helped me realize that when you’re there, cancer becomes a part of daily life, like buying groceries or washing dishes.
On the night of Bob’s diagnosis we made a decision to get married, and one of our marriage vows was to never lose our sense of humour. I offer this project in partial fulfillment of my wedding vows.
It is so important that we laugh as well as cry.