A cancer patient on TV, a hand holds the remote control

My Disease is Not Just a Plot Device

I started noticing after my blood cancer diagnosis that a lot of tv shows and movies use cancer as a plot device. I remember hanging out with my roommate in the living room and he was watching a show where someone was in the hospital. “I’m so sorry-” I heard the doctor say.

“Let me guess -- it’s cancer?” I said sarcastically. “It’s cancer,” said the fake tv doctor. It irked me a little.

Why did it irk me, though?

I think initially I was still going through non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so a lot of things irritated me. But when I sat down and really thought about it, I was upset because my illness, and a lot of other people’s illnesses, was being used as a plot device.

Hollywood portrays cancer unrealistically

Most of the time, cancer is shown in an unrealistic light too. The third time I had cancer and learned I would need chemotherapy, I thought, “Well, at least I'll lose some weight.” But I was also terrified because I thought I’d be the image of skin and bones with a lifeless gaping mouth clinging to life in bed for 3-6 months. Neither of those things was accurate for me. I actually gained weight from a steroid and, while I was in bed, it wasn’t 24/7, and I could close my mouth just fine.

Show what actually happens

It doesn’t help either that a lot of people who never get cancer, or who never know someone who has it, also have this unrealistic expectation in their head about what the disease can do to people. I actually have no problem with the media giving a character cancer because it is a very real thing that happens to people. But I feel it should be done correctly. Don’t just show someone with no hair lying in a hospital bed. Show the emotional toll it takes, the side effects, how different people have different experiences. Do your research people!

Has anyone gotten it right?

A friend was telling me about a movie as I was complaining about this, I believe it’s called 50/50. I haven’t actually seen it, so I can neither confirm nor deny but I do plan on watching it one day. It would be nice to see someone take on the topic correctly.

What do you think? Do you think it’s okay to include cancer in television or film? Or even on stage? Or do you think it’s something that shouldn’t ever be a part of the creative process?

I won't make a musical

I sometimes think about turning my experience into something artful. To make something out of something that was so hurtful and horrible to me would be therapeutic, but I sometimes wonder if it would be met with too much criticism. Then again, I feel like it would help other people who have never been around it understand, which might help the people who are going through it. If that makes sense? What would you do? I certainly don’t think I’d make it a musical LOL. It would be a little weird singing about getting a diagnosis on stage.

Warm wishes, Katelynn

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