When cartoonist and writer Marisa Acocella Marchetto was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 43 (and three weeks before her wedding), she chose to take a creative and empowered approach to sharing her experience — through a graphic memoir. Cancer Vixen ran in Glamour magazine in May 2005, was published in full in 2006, and is now being adapted for a film starring Cate Blanchett.
Marisa not only shared her story in our click4breastcancer.org campaign but also took some time to chat with us. She talked about what it meant to create Cancer Vixen, breastcancer.org and other support systems, the rise in cancer rates, changes she’s made in her own life, organic nutrition, and the power of treating yourself.
Why did you create Cancer Vixen?
I write about everything … and a lot of my work is autobiographical. When the Glamour editors asked me what was going on in my life and found out about my breast cancer diagnosis, they asked me to write 4 pages. I ended up writing hundreds and we eventually edited it down to 6 pages [The original piece Cancer Vixen was published in the March 2005 issue of Glamour]. The piece got a lot of attention. After the New York Times ran a story on Cancer Vixen, I was offered a book deal.
Did you find it helped you cope with your diagnosis and treatment?
Yes. I shifted my thinking from not being a victim … to being a vixen. A vixen doesn’t wallow in self-pity, she powers through things.
Was there anything else that helped you get through treatment?
I had a strong support system – my parents, husband and friends were all there for me. And I did things to help me feel better. For me, I love shoes–shoes are like comfort food without the calories.
Once you were diagnosed, did your eating habits change at all? Did you make any other lifestyle changes?
It took me a while, but yes, I did. My dad is a nutritionist and pharmacist. I grew up eating raw cashews and carrot juice. I found myself going back to my original eating habits. I make sure to eat organic foods … and “real” food. For breakfast, I have raw chocolate and fresh pressed juice. I eat organic yogurt [her favorite is Stonyfield Vanilla]. I also exercise daily. I’m healthier and stronger now than I was in my 20s. I couldn’t do a push up when I was 16! I’ve definitely changed my life for the better.
Since you’ve been diagnosed, have you learned anything new about the connection between food and health (or even organic and health)?
My mom always said to stay away from pesticides and to get your nutrition from whole foods. I’m convinced that the hormones in our food and milk have a direct impact on our girls. They develop earlier and earlier … and that may be one reason why women are being diagnosed younger and younger. Very scary. I don’t know why a bigger deal is not made of it. I really embrace the philosophy that you are what you DON’T eat. I’m more conscious that I’m not eating that stuff so I’m not that stuff!
What advice would you give someone who is recently diagnosed?
Be authentic to yourself. Treat yourself well. Surround yourself with good friends, family and healthy foods. Take the toxicity out of your life.
For me, I found Breastcancer.org to be an incredible resource to get through my diagnosis and treatment. I’ve also been following Dr. Marisa Weiss’ amazing work on risk reduction [Organic Living and Think Pink, Live Green]. It’s inspirational!
Are you working on any new projects now?
I’m writing a new book. It’s fiction, but definitely informed by my breast cancer experience. It will be published next year. And, I’m working on a screenplay for Cancer Vixen.
Any special connections you’ve had with others in sharing your breast cancer story in such a creative way?
I get letters from women around the world. The sad fact is, cancer has affected everyone’s lives – directly or through a family member, friend or colleague. More people are being diagnosed. The air, food and how we treat each other are all factors.
Please join Marisa and thousands of others to click4breastcancer.org. Share your story about how Breast Cancer has affected you, your family, or your friends and with each “click” Stonyfield will donate to breastcancer.org.