A story of a cartoonist, New York City, and breast cancer.

English: Times Square

Times Square. New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re 43, are thin, have great shoes, live in New York City, are about to get married and are a cartoonist for The New Yorker and Glamour magazine, it does not occur to you you might get breast cancer.

So, you let your insurance lapse.

This is a story about the shoes Marisa Acocella Marchetto wore to chemotherapy.

Yes, she had surgery, a lumpectomy, to remove a 1.3 cm tumor.

She discovered it in 2004 when she felt a lump in her breast and her arm hurt when she went swimming.

A biopsy confirmed cancer and surgery was scheduled.

The sentinel node was negative.

Yes, she had radiation after the chemo, just in case.

And, because she is a cartoonist, her 2006 cancer survivor memoir, CancerVixen: A True Story, is a graphic novel.

What Caused It?

It occurred to Marchetto that her cancer might have been triggered by the toxic dust in the air after 9/11.

It is common for cancer patients to wrack their brains trying to figure out what they might have done differently to keep from being in their shoes now.

While her doctor reassured her that there was only a low probability that this was the cause, breast cancer is now on the list of compensated cancers from 9/11.

The list of 58 cancers includes colon, lung, skin, ovarian, esophageal, and stomach cancers.

It does not include prostate, brain or pancreatic cancers.

When the report was updated in 2012, firefighters had a 19% increased risk of developing cancer compared to firefighters who did not work at the 9/11 site.

Asbestos, lead and other cancer-causing chemicals were released in the dust and smoke of 9/11.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

There are common risk factors for breast cancer.

  • Gender: For every 100 women who get breast cancer, 1 man will
  • Aging: Only 1 in 8 cases of breast cancer occur in women under 45
  • Genetic: 5 – 10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary
  • Family history: if a mother, daughter or sister has breast cancer, the risk is doubled; if two close relatives, the risk is tripled.
  • Personal history: the risk is three to four times higher if a woman has had breast cancer before
  • Dense breast tissue: from age, pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy or genetics
  • More menstrual cycles: started early or had late menopause
  • DES exposure: a drug prescribed in the 1940s through 60s to prevent miscarriage. Mothers and their daughters have an increased risk
  • Children: If no children before 30
  • Birth control: If recent. Risk goes back to normal once you stop, even if you take them for 10 years.
  • Combined hormone therapy after menopause. OK before menopause. Should be estrogen-replacement therapy after menopause
  • Alcohol: 2-5 drinks a day increases risk one-and-a-half times over those who don’t drink
  • Overweight or obese: after menopause

Marchetto was a regular swimmer, thin and young.

Probably the only thing on this list that she qualified for was alcohol, not having children, and the 9/11 exposure.

What Helps

  • Breast feeding: slightly lowers risk; the longer the better. Not an option for Marchetto.
  • Exercise: One and a quarter to two and a half hours a week lowers risk. Walking 10 hours a week is even better.

Marchetto continued to swim regularly, even during chemo, when energy allowed.

She surrounded herself with friends and had a chef/restauranteur husband who made her anti-cancer foods, like cauliflower and brussel sprout soup.

Her Mom was fiercely protective and accompanied her to every chemo session.

What Shoes Did She Wear?

Daughter of a shoe designer, whose first drawings were sketches of her mom’s shoe designs, Marchetto went to her chemotherapy appointments in style.

  • Chemo #1: Charles Jourdan blue metallic snakeskin Lucite pumps
  • Chemo #2: Giuseppe Zanotti sandals for a hot end-of-the-summer day
  • Chemo #3: Giuseppe Zanotti wedding shoes
  • Chemo #4: Casadei faux croc
  • Chemo #5: Emilio Pucci rubber boots
  • Chemo #6: Hotel Venus white patent pumps

Where Is She Now?

Marchetto is a cartoonist or illustrator for Talk, the New Yorker, Glamour magazine and the New York Times in New York City.

She donates a portion of her royalties from Cancer Vixen and has raised more than $1 million for cancer research and services for uninsured women.

She founded The Cancer Vixen Fund, which has raised more than $400,000 to pay for free mammograms for uninsured women.

New Vocabulary

The Cancer Card

In recognition of the toll cancer takes, people sometimes step aside for cancer patients.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer qualifies for what they call, ironically, “the cancer card.”

You can’t apply for membership. You get it when you get cancer.

You show it by telling people you have cancer when you need special consideration, like understanding if you feel nauseous in a restaurant or taxi.

Marchetto got a flu shot when supplies were running low because chemo reduces your immunity.

She was granted access to the limited number of shots because of her cancer diagnosis.

“It gets you out of dinners, lunches, social obligations, family functions, concerts, parties…and more.”

“Enjoy the cancer card easy-access benefits!”

“No license? No photo id? No problem?”

“No pre-set spending limit – your card is there when you need it.”

“Universal survivor network – now that you’re a member, hotline other survivors who can assist you on physicians, medications and more!”

She found that the card could be declined, though, as when she told a friend she had a temperature and was advised by her doctors not to go out if she didn’t have to because of her compromised immune system.

Her friend listened, was sympathetic, then said, “What time will you be at my shower tonight?”

She went.

Order your own copy of Marchetto’s book from amazon by clicking on the title, Cancer Vixen: A True Story.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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