50/50: Seeing My Story On The Big Screen

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I felt very alone. It was a time when literally hundreds of people showed  love and support towards me, and yet I had a hard time finding those who truly understood. I was in the oncology ward with people 2-3 times my age. My family was learning how to deal with the fact that the baby of the family (me) could be the first to go. If there is one word to sum it up, it would be “shock.” From me and everyone around me.

It’s with this that I turned to books and the internet. Not obsessively researching my disease, but rather looking for stories like mine. I stumbled across Young Adult Cancer Canada in my search, and proceeded to read every single one of their survivor profiles. Finally, people like me. People who went through the horror of cancer in the same stage of their lives and lived to tell the tale.

It’s that same organization that sent me, along with other young adult cancer patients and survivors from across Canada, to see the movie 50/50 last night. I’ve been anxiously waiting to see this movie since I heard about it the first week I was admitted to hospital. Finally, I could see my story play out on the big screen.

I’m not going to sit here and give you a critical review of the film, and I’ll try not to reveal any information beyond what’s shown in the trailer. Needless to say, seeing my story on the big screen stirred up a lot of emotions!

First and foremost, I loved that they injected a lot of humour into the film. Cancer is not depressing all the time. In fact, a lot of it is spent laughing at the absurdity of the situation. There were moments in the film where I found myself laughing way louder than anyone else around me. I am definitely one of those people who can find humour in the strangest of situations, and I think anyone in their 20s who finds themselves taking fun drugs for free at the hospital would be able to do the same.

What I thought the film really got right was that getting cancer in your 20s is not all about finding yourself, but more managing the emotions of the people around you. I’ve always wondered if it’s sometimes easier to be the sick one and not the one watching someone you love go through hell. Even though I know everything everyone does is because they love me, it is hard to be selfish when there are so many people around me who need to hear I’m okay. People say they can handle it, but really, they can’t (to no fault of their own).

While I overall enjoyed the movie, there is no way it could have summed up the cancer experience. It hit a lot of the high points but there are SO many points throughout the process, there’s just no way to get them all. On the other hand, it was hard to watch at some points because of how real it was. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone get chemotherapy in a movie. Although I’ve never been offered pot macaroons in the chair, it wasn’t far off from what I go through every other week.

The hardest part however is the surgery scene at the end. My mom, sister, and I were all crying. I think it’s because we are not all that far removed yet from my own surgery three months ago that led to my diagnosis. They removed a lymph node that day, but the back-up plan was to remove a piece of the cancer from around my heart. A much more serious procedure that had my family anxiously waiting while the surgeons worked on me behind the door.

There is no doubt that being the one on the operating table is easier than the one waiting to hear the news. I was so doped up at the time that I couldn’t really understand the emotions around what was going on. So seeing that onscreen struck a bit of a nerve.

Since my diagnosis, I have found tons of young adults with cancer to connect with. Some survivors, others going through treatment like me right now. We talk a lot about how we manage the day-to-day of feeling crappy all the time. The activities we miss. How we deal with our families. I don’t feel as alone, which can sometimes be the hardest part of being so sick at such a young age. The life I was busy living and planning is suddenly put on hold, and the many, many decades I have ahead of me are now filled with a giant question mark. It’s impossible for 50/50 to reflect the whole experience of having cancer in your 20s. But I’m happy that it is showing big audiences that is does happen, that not all of us die, and a lot of us get through it laughing.

Posted on October 6, 2011, in Cancer and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Dulce Leche and Chilli Chocolate Tart

    Not even going to TRY to articulate my thoughts about you watching this movie. You sometimes make me speechless (which is something LOTS of folks would PAY to see)! Instead I’ll share a recipe with you – I got it from a blog, copied it to a file, and, although I intended to save the URL so I could give credit to the wonderful person who came up with it, I failed miserably in that effort). If you like spicy things, you’ve got to LOVE this! [By the way, the original ‘hot chocolate’ served in Mexico always included a bit of cinnamon, vanilla, and chilli — even just a little bit makes the chocolate flavor ‘pop’!

    Dulche Leche and Chilli Chocolate Tart

    Makes 2 single serve tarts

    The key to a succesful dulce de leche from a can is low, steady heat and a water level high enough to ensure the can is completely immersed at all times. I used Nestle’s 395g can of Sweetened Condensed Milk.

    • 1 sheet of frozen rolled puff pastry
    • 1 (395g) can of sweetened condensed milk
    • 60g dark chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Old Gold)
    • 1 red long chilli
    • oil spray

    You will also need: 2 (9cm) loose bottom tart tins + pie weights or dried peas.

    To make dulce de leche in a can: place the unopenned can in a large saucepan filled with cold water so that the can is completely immersed. Bring to a gentle simmer, then lower the heat immedieately to just under a simmer (a few air bubbles coming off the bottom of the pan are fine). Cook for 3 hours, checking every 20 minutes and topping up with water as necessary.
    Once ready, remove from the saucepan and allow to cool for about 1 hour before opening. Cookbooks

    Preheat oven to 220C (200C fan forced, 425F, gas mark 7).

    To prepare the pastry: spray tart tins with some oil spray and thaw pastry sheet. Cut pastry sheet in half on the diagonal, and place loosely over the tins. Press into sides and discard on overhanging edges by pressing your hand down around the edge of the tin. Prick base with a fork and fill pastry with pie weights or dried peas. Blind bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Remove pie weights.
    To make chilli chocolate: chop chilli (with half the seeds if you like more heat). Mash up in a microwave safe bowl with a pestle to release the juice. Discard of the chilli bits, leaving juice in the bowl. Break chocolate into squares and place into the chilli juice bowl. Microwave on high for 20 seconds, mix and go again if all the chocolate hasn’t melted. Mix well.
    To assemble: spoon dulce de leche into the pie cases, leaving a little margin for the chocolate, and spread evenly. Top with melted chilli chocolate and spread to cover. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or until the chocolate is set. Serve chilled or at room temperature. The tarts can be made 48 hours in advance

  2. I can imagine that seeing it played out would be almost like reliving the whole thing from start to finish once again, but at the same time, it also reminds you that you’re not alone. Unfortunately, millions of people deal with that diagnosis and I truly believe finding that connection, that hope and that strength does wonders for both the physical and emotional battle you face. And I have no doubt that you serve as a pillar of strength for others feeling the same way. :)

    And to your point, we ALL have many, many decades ahead of us filled with a giant question mark, so with that one, you are totally not alone. Nothing is promised to anyone, which is a good reminder to make the most of what we have while we have it.

    • And I think that’s why even people who’ve never had cancer can still relate to and be touched by this and similar stories. It’s not just sick people that need that reminder!

  3. This movie was already on my list to see, but it’s moved to the top. Thanks for the perspective, Susan. :-)

  4. The movie has been on my list and I’m looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for sharing how you saw it but also how it struck your family.

    Watching Seth Rogan give interviews about it and tell the story of how he and his friend (the screenwriter) are amazing.

    And I hear you on being the one sick is sometimes easier. I don’t remember how long my back surgery was…it felt like 20 minutes. Later Hunni told me I was in surgery for over 6 hours and it was only supposed to be 5.

  5. I want to see that movie, but didn’t really think how it would feel watching it from your perspective. Wow. I can only imagine how emotional that could be. I’m glad you enjoyed it for the most part. And thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

  6. You know, after have been reading your blog for a while now, I wondered what your take on this movie would be. I have still yet to see it – but I’m thankful for you and sharing your experience watching this with all of us. I am thinking I’ll need to go and see this asap.

  7. Hey Susan, still here reading everyday. I don’t comment very much but I’m always rooting for you. I’m positive you know about this move “Forks Over Knives”, did you see it yet? I know it would be one you’d like. I need to watch it again, so much information in it, I’m really enjoying it.

  8. I’ve been looking forward to seeing this movie. Thank you for sharing your experience of it.

  9. Susan today is my treatment #5 …I related to many of your comments this morning .

  10. Beautiful. Thank you!

  11. I’m so glad you had a good experience with the movie! I really want to see it, especially knowing how much of it is actually based on Seth Rogan’s writing partner’s experience. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Scott asked me what I thought of the movie and there were just so many things I wanted to say but had a hard time articulating. Perhaps because I felt we saw it through different eyes. Your thoughts really reasonated with me. I thought the part where he was told he had cancer and stopped hearing what the doctor said was very well done. Remember when I told you to document your side effects? And that I took a pen and a paper to my chemo teaching? Your head instantly becomes filled with questions, fears, uncertainty and it can prevent you from retaining very important information. Obviously, once treatment starts it gets even worse.

    I felt like I was taking care of everyone around me during my experience, trying to manage their emotions and make them feel OK about it. While not all people who have had cancer will agree, I feel that it is easier to be the patient than to see someone you love suffer and feel powerless to help them. However, there are days when you don’t have the patience or energy to deal with taking care of other people. Another part of the movie that was well done. A+ as well on the instant connection felt between people receiving treatment together and the shock at seeing someone you got to know not making it.

    There were just so many things I connected with. When I had surgery to remove the tumours, it wasn’t a life/death surgery. But I remember being wheeled down the hall and thinking if those were my last moments that I should reflect on all that was given to me in life, breathe in deeply while I could and I just smiled. It was possibly a self-protection technique. That scene killed me. It was so well acted!

    • Yes, I thought how they did the scene where he heard “cancer” for the first time was REALLY well done. Although, my doctor is nothing like the one in the movie, it’s an otherwordly response once that word is said for the first time.

      I didn’t mention it in my post, but I too appreciated how they included that yes, we make cancer friends, but that also means we lose cancer friends. It’s the worst part of being part of the “Cancer Club” – people leave far too often. Just in the last three months, two of the people I shared hospital rooms with have already passed away.

      And YES on the acting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was really, really good in how he went through the emotions. The apathy he had throughout chemo is what I feel like now. I feel like a zombie a lot of the time and I really got that was what he was going through watching it on film.

      Definitely the best portrayal of cancer I’ve seen in a movie yet. Plus, I like it when the person with cancer doesn’t die :)

      • While the therapist seemed at first to say everything by the book and it came across as not particularly applying, she mentioned that the “numb” feeling was a self-protection technique. That’s partly true. While I was in treatment, I just had my eye on the ball. I felt like if I let my defenses down, I’d be more vulnerable and less able to cope. I was a stone lady. When the PICC was taken out of my arm – something I VERY much looked forward to – I just sat there, stoned-faced while Chris and his mother cried. I fell apart emotionally after treatment, when I felt it was safe to. It’s not that I didn’t get scared or think of the worst, or cry, get angry, whatever. It’s just that life was going on all around me and I tackled things a day at a time. The only way out is through. Even though one may never accept that cancer has entered their life, a cancer patient has to come to some point of acceptance that this is the situation they’re in, like it or not, and control the things they can.

        I was also thinking about how isolated I felt, even though I had support. It’s the lonliest of journies. He had a good friend, his mother, the therapist; but no one could rescue him from what he was facing, lessen the side effects, the fear of the unknown. That hit home.

        I noticed in one of your comments you mentioned how amazing nurses are. I second that! It was my chemo experience that sparked my interest in nursing. My oncologist, family doctor and PGTD specialist were also far more sympathetic than the doctor in the movie. I kept thinking how much it would suck to have a doctor like that on top of all the crap and to feel reduced to a statistic.

  13. I enjoyed the movie. However, my medical/surgical staff were much gentler and kinder to me. The movie increased my gratefulness for the many kindnesses of family, friends and strangers. Also, I related to the mother. Having a child that ill must be almost more than one can bear. Blessings on all of you!

    • Yes, my doctors are much better at explaining things than those in the movie. One other thing it missed are the nurses. They are amazing and have helped me a lot throughout this.

  14. I hadnt heard about this movie, Susan. I am glad for you that you feel a sense of support or community in all of this…as always, thinking of you and my prayers are always with you even if I am doing more google reader stealthy reading these days :)

  15. Christina aka Mom

    I hate it when I hear the media call the mother in the movie over bearing – if she if over bearing I can’t think of the adjective to describe me…

  16. I support you Christina aka Mom! You are being a mom. I really don’t understand the criticism of the film Mom.
    Susan, I was including the wonderful nurses too!

  17. I’m just gonna say: AMEN.

    I saw it a few weeks ago and reviewed it on my blog as well. That was exactly how I felt.

    I hope one day we get to share a drink over this. Our journeys are so similar.

  18. Mixing humor and painful subject matter is, naturally, very difficult. The beauty of this movie is that it does so with ease, especially with such good actors in these roles as well. Good review. Check out my site when you can.

  19. Great post! I’m actually planning on seeing the movie with one of my friends. (We bonded over both losing our moms to cancer long before we bonded over her helping me through cancer.) I’ve formed several close friendships with young women dealing with cancer. There are a lot of people who understandably can’t get it until they go through it. It helps to be able to just be with someone who does. Happy that you have found some of these friends through that group.

    Oh, and one of my friends was diagnosed with cancer right after I finished chemotherapy. I cried more during her first visit to the chemotherapy room than I did when I went (not in front of her, though). Sending you hugs and prayers.

  20. As soon as I saw a scene from this I wanted to see it! I do love some Seth Rogen. And, probably like most of your readers, I wondered what your take on it would be so great and timely post :)

    On another note, this Saturday is my first Saturday off from work since July and I want to make my family a puffed apple pancake for breakfast – any recipe ideas? I’ve found a couple but I’ve never made one so I wanted to see if you (or anyone else who sees this and has made one before) had any experience.

  21. Thank you so much for sharing….I’m going to see 50/50 tonight with my husband. I’m excited, but nervous….I ended treatment 2 months ago but have my scan next week to tell me whether or not I’m cancer-free yet…if so, yay! If not, more treatment. Anyways, as the day of my scan approaches I’ve started having dreams of chemo and all the other unpleasentries of cancer…I don’t want to start all of that again! But I’m hoping that seeing the movie will help me process all that’s happened since my diagnosis. Anyways, thinking of you as you journey through cancer.

    • My mom always says that she doesn’t like the term “cancer free” because we all have cancer cells in our bodies at some points. It’s a matter of our bodies being able to fight them off. So here’s hoping your body has finally figured out how to give those suckers hell ;) Enjoy the movie!!

  22. I watched 50/50 last night, and it made me laugh, made me mad, and made me cry. A few times I sat there thinking about you during it. I loved the rawness of the emotions and how the funny bits were not the usual Seth Rogen bits! The parts that evoked the most laughter in the crowd were the so awkward it’s true- it’s just funny because there is nothing you can do about it parts. It wasn’t a love story, it wasn’t a comedy… I loved the focusing effects to make you focus on one character or another, and their reactions…

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed it!! Yes, the sound and camera tricks were really well done. The part where he’s told he has cancer is exactly what it’s like – everything gets lost after that word is uttered. And then the scene where he’s high and walking through the hospital. That’s kind of how I feel when I’ve got my Ativan high after treatment, haha ;)

  23. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer this August. A few weeks later, I heard an interview on NPR about 50/50 and Will Reiser (the writer) was talking about how he was diagnosed at age 24- same age I was! My best friend took me to see it the first night it came out and I loved it too! I want to see it again already.

  1. Pingback: One Honoree’s Story « My 30-Day Triathlon Countdown

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