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Carol against cancer

Author Neelam Kumar brings back her spirited alter-ego in a graphic novel that discusses the ordeal of the disease

The C-word is something that author and life coach, Neelam Kumar is all too familiar with. A two-time cancer survivor, she, went on to pen a humourous book on the disease last September, titled To Cancer, With Love — My Journey of Joy. It was a moving, yet hilarious account of her ordeal. Six months on, she is back with a sequel in the form of a graphic novel, Victim to Victor — My Journey Through Cancer, India’s first graphic novel on the disease.

Victim to Victor — My Journey Through Cancer, India’s first graphic novel on the disease
Victim to Victor — My Journey Through Cancer, India’s first graphic novel on the disease

“I did not set out to write a graphic novel, it happened serendipitously,” says the Andheri resident who has authored five books including, I, A Woman and Our Favourite Indian Stories which she co-authored with Khushwant Singh. The 57-year-old who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, which relapsed in 2013, adds, “After my book got published, many survivors from the UK and USA wrote to me saying a comic-book format would have been easier to read. I understood what they meant. It can be taxing to read an entire book while undergoing radiation therapy,” says Kumar. But, she admits, she is no artist. “I can write, but drawing is certainly not my forte.” So, the artwork is handled by Canadian animation company Moovix.

Carol, Kumar’s alter ego who keeps her going, makes a comeback. Carol, she says is a witty, spunky, care-a damn, ageless girl “who taught me how much fun life could be if handled with positivity and humour”. She is somebody, Kumar says, who she eventually transformed into when she made up her mind to accept joy, and ensure her life became worthy of
emulation.

“While writing the book, I picked up some best-selling classics to cheer myself up. To my horror, in The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, the hero dies; in Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, the hero dies; in Grace and Grit, by Ken Wilber, the heroine dies. So, I wanted to become that one person who stood up and said, ‘Look! I handled two cancers and I’m alive!’”

While internationally, comic books, like Terminally Illin’ by cancer survivor Kaylin Andres and Jon Solo, have been widely popular, Kumar says she did not refer to them. “I did not want to colour my perception by reading what others had written. It was about my story, which I wanted to share with countless others.”

Preparation and research meant condensing a 208-page novel into a 50-pager graphic novel. “I had to make my writing crisper while retaining the punch and humour.” The tone is happier, full of hope and courage. “I had lost my long hair, my eyebrows; I was stripped of all my feminine vanity. Unbelievably, I found this situation hilarious. I looked like an alien, but so what? I could probably audition for a role in a science-fiction movie,” she laughs. Such light humour, she says, is what the book is laced with. “Cancer is no more a death sentence.

With early detection and lifestyle changes, it is possible to reverse the situation,” she says. While her book is a shoutout to all those coping with the disease, she hopes to build awareness even among those who aren’t afflicted by it. “Due to lack of awareness, a lot of people thought they would catch an infection from me. The book will bust such myths.”

But writing a graphic novel means investing close to R13 lakh in the project, which for Kumar is beyond her means. “This is why I have pitched it as a crowd-funded initiative,” she says. Kumar needs to generate the amount within 50 days if the book must launch.

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