U.S. National Institutes of Health

Class 4: Caring for Others—The Perspective of Family Members


In this class, students explore how illness impacts not only the patient, but also their loved ones and caregivers.

Mom’s Cancer is a story about how one family adapted and coped after “mom” was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. In Sharon Rosenzweig’s Judgment Call, the family is asked to step in and make critical decisions on behalf of their mother, who has dementia and cannot decide for herself. Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles also addresses the issue of caring for a family member with dementia. Students read these selections from graphic narratives that address the challenges family members face when navigating the complex health care system, and the difficulties of caring for a sick loved one. Relatedly, students explore how stories of illness can look very different depending on the point of view of the person telling the story.

Students read together Green’s “Comeuppance,” and depict the story from three different points of view. For the drawing activity, students work in small groups of three or four and draw the scene in “Comeuppance.” Using the Points of View handout, students illustrate the full story from the group’s assigned perspective as either the patient, student, or physician. They share the group graphic narratives and explore how the stories differ depending on the point of view.

  • Fies, Brian. Mom’s Cancer, by Brian Fies. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 2009.
  • Rosenzweig, Sharon. “Annals Graphic Medicine - Judgment Call.” Annals of Internal Medicine September 6, 2016. http://annals.org/aim/article/2547656/annals-graphic-medicine-judgment-call.
  • Leavitt, Sarah. Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My mother, and Me. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012, pp. 119—123.
  • Madden, Matt. 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style. Pittsfield, MA: Chamberlain Bros., 2005, pp. 2—29.
Activity Materials
  • Green, Michael J. “Comeuppance.” Academic Medicine. August 2011 86(8): 981
  • Points of View (PDF)

  1. Discuss Mom’s Cancer
    • What unique challenges did Brian Fies’ family face in caring for “mom”?
    • Fies describes how emergencies transform us into people with superpowers, bringing out both our best and worst characteristics. What do you think he means by this? Can you relate to this observation?
    • Fies also depicts how every important conversation includes both the spoken words and the unspoken subtext of what those words really mean. What sorts of messages are being communicated outside the spoken words, and how does the comics medium help make this point?
    • How is the perspective of the family members different from that of the patient?
  2. Discuss Judgment Call
    • What was the “judgement call” described in the comic?
    • How should family members go about the task of making such decisions? On what basis?
    • How did Rozensweig’s family decide? Discuss your thoughts about how they made the decision, and its outcome.
  3. Discuss Tangles
    • How is the excerpt from Sarah Leavitt’s comic similar to, and different from, Judgement Call?
  4. Discuss the concept of “point of view”
    • How does the point of view affect the story? How does it affect empathy between reader and artist?
    • Analyze how the various depictions shown in 99 Ways to Tell a Story change the meaning of the narrative and the emotional impact on the reader
    • Describe similarities and differences between Tangles and Judgement Call regarding point of view and the experience of illness
    • From what perspectives are these stories being told? How do you know this? What would the stories look like from a different point of view?
  5. Discuss daily diary entries as a class.
    • If students are comfortable doing so, have volunteers read their diary entries for the week while the other students listen and draw something they heard on 4 x 6 index cards. Invite several different people read their diary entries, and then have the students walk around the room and take a look at the images people drew from what they heard.
    • How did the activity affect the way you observed your surroundings?
    • What did you hear that was surprising?
    • Do you remember seeing or hearing things that you wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t been assigned this diary?
    • Other thoughts about the daily diary?