Nina Abelowitz was in high school when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, an experience that ultimately influenced her career choice as an oncology nurse practitioner.
After Alice Meltzer succumbed to the disease at age 69 on July 10, 2016, Abelowitz then learned to navigate the self-publishing industry so her mother’s wry wit may comfort other patients in treatment.
“Laughter is the Best Medicine,” to be published by Washington, D.C.-based Mascot Books, is an autobiographical illustrated narrative that candidly explores the complexities of life with cancer. It was written by Meltzer and illustrated by her cousin, Zach Handler of New York City.
The book features 16 cartoons, including the captioned drawings “Wig selfies” and “Moving is easier than chemo.” In another, a woman gesturing to a timid-looking man is paired with the saying, “Never argue with a bald woman on steroids.” The final image of patients in a waiting room challenges, “Are we survivors or are we warriors?”
“It was hard to finish the book, but also a way to focus on my mother rather than my sadness,” said Abelowitz, who lives in Concord. “My mother felt so betrayed by her body, and expressing all these dark, humorous thoughts was her way of coping. This [book] is what she wanted, and I’m really proud of her work.”
Born and raised in New York, Meltzer earned a fine arts degree from Boston University and taught art education in Holliston for 10 years. A resident of Miami since 1979, she created papier-mâché, Judaica pins, necklaces, and belts that were sold in boutiques and museums. Meltzer was in remission for 14 years before suffering a relapse in 2012.
For Abelowitz, who was unable to travel to the funeral because of her advanced pregnancy, the book is a way to honor the spirit, artistic talent, and bravery of “the best friend and mother that anyone could have.” She has also found unexpected solace in sharing the book with her patients, who share the same “certain sense of humor.”
“It’s still hard for me, because I think about my mom a lot,” Abelowitz said, “but it’s very meaningful to be able to make my patients smile.”
“Laughter is the Best Medicine” may be preordered for $14.95. For more information, visit mascotbooks.com.Cindy Cantrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.