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.