Embroidered Cancer Comic by Elizabeth Shefrin

Susan Yates

Book Review

Tuesday, August 30 2016

Earlier this year, during the months of April and May, I was traveling back and forth to Duncan several times a week to visit and help care for my father, who was succumbing to complications from prostate cancer. On one of those trips I took a copy of Elizabeth Shefrin’s latest masterpiece (no exaggeration), a profoundly moving and diminutively elegant book entitled Embroidered Cancer Comic.

It takes only half a ferry ride to read the comic panels, but it took me a whole (return) ride to read the author’s notes, the comments by Bob Bossin (the comic book hero), and the afterword by Dr. Peter Black, whom I think of as the superhero of this story.

Elizabeth Shefrin, the author of the Embroidered Cancer comic. Submitted photo 

Many readers know that Bob Bossin is Elizabeth Shefrin’s husband, and the story told between the covers of this beautiful book is as beautiful a love story as it is the tale of two humans facing the frightening prospect of drastic medical measures in order to prevent cancer from dealing its black cards far too early in the game.

I may as well confess that I wept many tears as I read and re-read Shefrin’s tribute to her beloved husband and to the cause of prevention through education, and sharing the burden of such a scary diagnosis. I was feeling very sad that my own father did not get an early enough diagnosis for prostate cancer that might have saved his life, and I was feeling worried for Bob and Elizabeth, too – two friends who give so much to their community.

Sometimes a beautiful piece of art, music or literature can move one to tears, and the Embroidered Cancer Comic does that on several levels: it is heartbreakingly funny, tender, witty, wise, and so very moving in its depiction of a devoted couple doing their best to be brave and hopeful.

Perhaps my favourite set of comic panels in the story is near the middle, when Elizabeth says to Bob, “You know this comic is about pretty intimate stuff...is there anything you want me to change?” Our hero replies, “No. I don’t believe in censorship.” As a retired librarian, this statement is very important to me, but it also reveals Bob’s unfettered faith in Elizabeth’s ability to tell the story and tell it true. The next two panels carry on the conversation with something very funny (I can’t give the joke away) as the couple prepare for the treatment decision resulting from some difficult conversations.

The back cover comments by Dr. Peter Black at the Vancouver Prostate Centre (and Bob’s surgeon) should be required reading for anyone, and especially for couples, who must undergo the ‘cancer journey’. Dr. Black ends his short essay with these wise words: “Bob and Elizabeth started the journey no different than most patients, but the comic shows how they stuck together, rolled with the punches, and emerged perhaps even closer together than when the journey started.” I know for certain that I will never take for granted the value in communicating with the kind of love and humour that Elizabeth and Bob show us in Embroidered Cancer Comic.

Because I was away from Gabriola so much while caring for my father, I regretfully missed the Cancer Comic launch on Gabriola earlier this summer. On September 17, my brother, sister and I will be planting my father’s ashes in a place he loved. On September 15 I’m hoping to attend the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver for a very special presentation: Embroidered Cancer Comic, an Artist’s Intimate Look at Love and Prostate Cancer. Elizabeth Shefrin’s original embroidered art work will be on display at the Roundhouse during the months of September and October, and they’re sure to garner as much admiration as the reviews of Embroidered Cancer Comic have – including one in the British medical journal The Lancet. 

I’ll take some of the beauty from this show to my brother and sister on our dad’s last journey.