Tuesday, December 27, 2022

REVIEW: I'm a Terminal Cancer Patient But I'm Fine: Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Author of Erotic Manga Has Colon Cancer (autobiographical graphic novel) by Hilnama, translated by Beni Axia Conrad

Hilnama died on December 12, 2022. I can't claim that that fact didn't affect my reading experience, so I'll just say it upfront. This volume covers the period from her diagnosis in 2019 to an update about her treatment in December 2020.

This is Hilnama's account of being diagnosed with and treated for Stage IV colon cancer. She goes to a doctor because she's experiencing very bad period cramps that don't feel quite like her usual very bad period cramps. The first doctor she sees sends her home, saying there are no abnormalities in her tests (it should be noted that this is the only medical professional in the entire book who's depicted as an animal, a frog - everyone else, except for Hilnama, her husband, and her sister-in-law, who are rabbits, generally looks like a good-looking actor straight out of a popular medical drama). She sees another doctor the next day, who's able to feel something that the CT scan missed and who sends her off for further tests.

Like most medical graphic novels, there's a lot of emphasis on the author's experiences with diagnosis and treatment. Hilnama states that she had a couple doctors look over her drafts to make sure the things she wrote were correct. She includes a list of the items she brought with her when she was hospitalized and how useful they were (some or all of this may overlap with what's useful for a long hospital stay in the US, not sure). She also talks about some of the side effects she experienced while undergoing treatment and how she attempted to deal with the worst of them.

One thing she spent a fair amount of time on that I really appreciated was support networks - not just the benefits of having a good one, but also the necessity of making sure that the people you're relying on for support have support as well. Hilnama's primary support was her husband, but he struggled with depression. She knew he'd need support as well if they were going to get through this, so she had him talk to his sister. A part later in the volume covers some of the ways her husband helped her while she was being treated, much of which involved learning to do household activities (laundry, grocery shopping, cooking) that she'd previously done instead. On the one hand, I was kind of appalled (dude, you need to know how to take care of yourself!). On the other hand, I spent a good chunk of this portion of the book thinking about Hilnama's recent death, crying, and hoping her husband is doing okay.

One of the reasons why support networks were so much in Hilnama's thoughts was probably due to the fact that, as a survivor of child abuse, she absolutely did not want her parents involved in any aspect of her treatment. This part was rough reading about (the image of her father holding her by her ankles is haunting and horrifying), and I'm glad that her sister-in-law believed her when she told her.

An aspect I haven't written about yet: Hilnama's profession as an erotic manga author. It actually does get tied in to her account of her diagnosis and treatment, multiple times. For anyone who's worried, there's no explicit imagery. The most risque she gets is a couple highly pixelated panels (a playful way to refer to her work) and the barium enema scene in which a peach played the part of her butt (there are sound effects, fluids, and a censorship bar...but it's technically still a peach). Her first thought upon seeing lidocaine spray they were going to use on her prior to her upper GI endoscopy was...something (she associated it with urethral play).

All in all, this was a good medical graphic novel - it covered a lot in only 159 pages. I'm glad Hilnama was able to finish it, and I hope her husband is taking care of himself and getting help when he needs it.

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