My Multifocal Life


Nancy K. Miller

The very last day of December 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 3B metastatic lung cancer. The cancer no longer appears to be metastatic (though the label you start with remains); but the scary prognosis it came with—“incurable but treatable”—hasn’t changed. My particular type of lung cancer is called “multifocal” (lots of little primary tumors in both lungs); and since 2016, after years of chemo and a “partial remission,” it has become reactivated, one tiny tumor at a time; I live scan to scan, in fear of recurrence. My graphic experiments, that mysteriously began with the diagnosis, help me confront the anxieties that inevitably accompany life in Cancerland.

View these and all My Multifocal Life entries in the Diary »

My cartoons are drawn as single panels, each distilling an aspect of the chronic cancer experience, which in fact is repetitive. Everyone—doctors, friends—asks the smoking question; everyone tells you how great you look. But what matters is what it’s like to wait for chemo, over years, feeling awful every time.

Recently, my treatments became more dramatic, and I began to see my cancer life as a kind of comic book sequence: a traumatic strip from the moment of the scan, to diagnosis, to surgery you hope will be curative.

See also:

Cancer Gadfly entries in the Diary »

Virtual labyrinths: Nancy K. Miller’s and Susan Gubar’s narratives of cancer by Rosalía Baena in De Guyter, 2020. Read the article »

New Ways to Talk About Cancer. I previewed some of my thoughts on lung cancer and my graphic response to the diagnosis in an interview with journalist Sarah Glazer on Cancer Commons. Read interview »

The Trauma of Diagnosis. This is the first article I’ve published on the cancer experience and how it is represented in graphic memoir. I’ve included many artists’ drawings and a few of my own. Download the article »