Anna Faroqhi is a film director, illustrator and writer. She studied singing, maths and filmmaking, but was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 44. In her comic book called “Krebs Kung Fu” (Kung Fu Cancer), Anna draws the life of a cancer patient and her journey, through some superb images.
Can you tell us more about you and your journey?
I’m a film maker and comic author from Berlin. I often work with my Husband, Haim Peretz, who is also my business partner. Together, we make documentaries and test films, we create and organise exhibitions, and we teach students in different schools in Berlin and cultural centres how to make films. At the Academy of Music, Hans Eisler, we also run a video studio. We share our know-how with students about Opera and song production. I studied singing, maths and film making and I am very grateful to be able to combine the 3 disciplines.
At the moment, my Husband and I are working on a film project and exhibition focussed on refugees and their stories before leaving their countries. Thanks to this project, we have met some amazing people.
You are an author, film maker and artist, and at 44 years old you were diagnosed with Ovarian cancer. Where did you find the strength to continue all your projects?
I was lucky. What really helped me after the diagnosis and during the treatments was my family’s love and focussing on myself. I observed and asked a lot of questions. Conversations with my friends and family, but also with Doctors and specialists (for example, my Physiotherapist), helped me a lot.
The idea to create a comic book about my experience made it easier for me. I could take a step back from the fear, and this distance helped me appreciate life even more. My desire to learn and analyse everything that happened to me allowed me to view the situation as something shocking, but also as an interesting and enriching experience.
5 years after my diagnosis, I am doing great. I am appreciative because I can now live again as a healthy person, I can drop my daughter off at school, I can work in a job that I love, I can meet people and I can continue learning.
In another interview, you said “With my illness, we start seeing things from another angle and we realise all the absurdities and irony of our daily activities”, can you explain what you meant?
I was confronted with my own death. Death became a reality, it wasn’t just a possibility any more. In moments like that, our daily activities become difficult. Even when I was close to exhaustion, I still cleaned the house or took my daughter to school. Instead of taking 20 minutes to clean the bathroom, it was taking me nearly an hour to finish and the shortest route to the shops seemed like a trip around the world.
I saw myself as a superhero who was accomplishing some pretty extraordinary things. If you were looking in from the outside, it would have been quite strange – I felt weak and tired and I saw myself as a superhero fighting my cancer cells.
Meeting with other patients was also quite amusing. When I didn’t have any more hair due to chemo, except for 2 eyelashes that resisted, my Husband’s daughter who was 14 at the time was jealous because I didn’t have to shave my legs.
Whatever we do, no matter the crisis, we remain human. We remain imperfect.
Your comic book “Kung Fu Cancer” talks about ovarian cancer and the different steps during chemo. How did this idea come about? Did your drawings help you overcome this situation?
I never learnt to draw at school, but I always loved it. I drew to change the way I saw a building, an unknown city, a face or a film. My Mother was a painter, she always let us draw for hours on end. For me, it became a tool to observe my environment. It’s a very personal moment for me. I have been interested in comics for a while now. It was logical that I start drawing to overcome the shock of the diagnosis.
Can you resume in a few sentences the content of your comics?
I explain the path of a woman and Mother who works throughout her illness. We can see that the protagonist is motivated by autobiographical reasons and her journey with the diagnosis, therapies, stress, treatments and strategies to overcome this illness.
Copyright © Edition be.bra/Anna Faroqhi
The German Ovarian Cancer Foundation recognises your work and wrote: « this comic book allows readers to change their perspective, it is an important contribution to help remove the taboos held by society around cancer ». In your opinion, is this subject still taboo?
Yes, because having a cancer signifies that most people will suffer or die.
Nobody likes to talk about it. In films, sick people basically look like angels who give advice about life. Cancer is an illness that cannot always be cured or can only be treated with tiring treatments. People concerned become “uncertain factors” for those close to them: at work, close friends, family or acquaintances. I completely understand their reactions. What do you say to someone confronted by death? Do you talk to someone about the fact that they are suffering during chemo or about the latest Summer novel? I wrote “Kung Fu Cancer” to communicate with people outside of my close circle of friends and family. The form and unique narration style of comic books helped me protect my intimacy.
Why is it important to smile and stay positive in life?
It is not the same for everyone. For me, it’s very important! If we can’t recognise the funny moments or if we aren’t calm enough to see the positive side of life, then the therapeutic process is a simple therapeutic process! Humour and self-confidence are essential tools in accepting what has happened and that it’s better than giving up. As long as I’m alive, then that’s what I want – to feel, to experience, to experiment, to live, to stay open-minded.
You lost your Mother to Ovarian cancer. How did you manage to stay so open-minded about the subject?
My Mother died in the 90’s. My Sister and I were at her side during this painful journey. At the time, being diagnosed with Ovarian cancer basically signified a fast and certain death. My Mother was an amazing woman! Even when her life held on by a thread, she had the gift to see the beauty of a sun’s rays, a rose, a perfume. She spoke with us a lot about our fears, sometimes she helped calm our anxiety and she told us off for our sad faces. After her death, the Doctors told us that they had learned a lot from her. I would betray my Mother if I gave in to my fears!
What message would you like to leave with our readers?
I think that nothing would be better than quotes we find in calendars…