Miriam Engelberg, a graphic author diagnosed with breast cancer who found improbable humor in her own terminal illness, has died at home in San Francisco. She was 48.
Engelberg’s publisher, HarperCollins, said that friends and family, including her husband, Jim, and son, Aaron, were at her bedside when she died Tuesday.
Engelberg’s “Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics” came out last spring, with Engelberg adding her own humorous spin on the deadly illness.
“I’d be telling a friend something upsetting about the latest twist and turn in my cancer saga, but as the words came out of my mouth they would turn into something absurd and we’d both end up laughing,” she wrote.
Before she was diagnosed in 2001, she worked for a San Francisco nonprofit called Compass Point doing computer work, and published a comic book, “Planet 501c3,” about the nonprofit world. She had no formal drawing training, and her style was basic; the book is in black and white.
“I started doing this before I was diagnosed with cancer,” she told the AP. “I started doing cartoons when my son was a baby to relieve stress. I wrote the first one about waiting to hear about the results from my mammogram. It just came out of that.”
As she finished her book, she thought she had a happy ending: a successful round of radiation and chemotherapy. But then she got the news that the cancer was spreading. She decided to add a few panels about it.
“I hate to think of it as therapy,” Engelberg, a native of Philadelphia, told The Associated Press during an interview in early 2006. “But it did help me get through it, to have a purpose.”
Still, she kept her sense of humor.
“You know, my first thought when I heard was, ’I hope it doesn’t hurt my book sales,”’ she quipped. Of her illness, Engelberg once wrote, “Have I really become a shallower person since cancer? Some of my friends beg to differ and state unequivocally that I was already shallow before cancer.”
Funeral arrangements were pending.