5 things movies always get wrong about cancer

Wait! Come back! Let me explain. We’ve all seen those tearjerkers about the big C and naturally we ended up crying our eyes out. But then I got a front row seat to the experience when I developed eye cancer at the age of 28. I like to describe it as being like living with a timebomb in my head, but a really shit one that just makes you sick and doesn’t explode in a kick-ass way. Just over two years after diagnosis I’ve discovered that the film industry rarely tells the full truth and now I’ve decided to write a list of the myths that movies seem eager to obey. Please remember these are just opinions based on my experience so if you disagree then let me know in the comments. Let’s do this!

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That’s more like it!

5. Cancer is exciting

Its the reason there are films about it. Getting suddenly hit by a bus can be hilarious but someone slowly getting weaker and dying is definitely in the category of tragedy. Viewers of these movies are almost guaranteed to cry even if the film is a manipulative sappy piece of shit. In reality cancer is boring. Hours and hours of operations, treatments, hospital checkups, worries about every little pain you get anywhere in your body. You miss work, lose touch with friends and lose your social abilities. All of this leads us nicely on to the next myth.

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I know how you feel buddy

4. You have a greater lust for life

There are many films and TV shows about my fellow members of the cancer club changing their outlook on life and grabbing it with both hands. Either they do crazy exciting things (The Bucket List) or they become criminals (Breaking Bad). In reality most things don’t change, I spent six months in bed after treatment instead of bungee jumping or snowboarding. Plus any crystal meth I cooked was for personal use. Life goes on, you have to work, pay your bills, try to finish Dark Souls before you die. It might be different for Queen Latifah or Walter White but I just got lazier.

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To be honest, you could live to a hundred and not finish this

3. Everyone gets chemo

Guess what? Not everyone does. My treatment was a proton beam fired directly into my eyeball. I know that sounds like something from Star Wars but it’s not as exciting as it sounds. The chemotherapy ‘look’ is something filmmakers love. Any opportunity for someone pale wearing a bandana and coughing is movie gold. My story would lose it’s impact when I strut in with my fat face and luxurious head of hair to screaming crowds of girls. This hasn’t happened yet but surely it’s inevitable?

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“That’s no small moon, it’s a radiotherapy machine!”

2. You’re either cured or you die

My cancer is an incredibly rare one that doesn’t conform to the usual process we always see in movies. There are two types of cancer movies – those where the character dies (My Sister’s Keeper) or they’re cured (50/50). Again this is for dramatic purposes. I have to go to get my tumour checked every six months for the rest of my life but that would make an incredibly dull movie. I can just see audiences shouting at the screen ‘would you just die already’ like me watching a Jennifer Aniston film. I’m not saying cancer is like an Aniston movie. But it is.

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CANCER!!!

1. Everything is great after the all clear

Those who don’t die but are given some kind of all clear seem to carry on as if it had never happened. Once their hair grows back and they get some colour in their cheeks the cancer saga gets forgotten about. This happens more in TV shows such as every soap opera ever made. This is probably the stupidest myth that entertainment propogates. Cancer treatment is horrible, sufferers have bits cut off, burnt off, there are complications like infertility or chronic pain even if the actual disease is killed. In my case my treatment fried my eyeball and left me blind in one eye. Now I can’t see 3D films which according to some is actually a benefit.

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So there you have it: the strangest writing experience I’ve ever had on this blog. Basically to sum it up, Hollywood uses cancer as a lazy way to either make you cry or make you feel good. My personal story would be incredibly dull but could make a good Hostel style torture-porn movie due to the amount of eye surgery involved. I prefer to think of it as a horror-comedy like Evil Dead 2 – some truly horrific events intercut with a lot of massive laughs due to the friends and family who have been around to make everything so much better. In my opinion the definitive, heartfelt, realistic cancer film has yet to be made. Maybe one day but until then this article will have to do. I’ll keep an eye out for it!

What’s your favourite cancer movie?! Is that an incredibly offensive question? Are there any diseases you think are poorly treated by Hollywood? Let me know below!

53 comments

  1. This is an incredible write up Michael. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry whilst reading it! “I’ll keep an eye out for it” hope you are well πŸ™‚

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  2. I’m not sure what to say. So maybe I’ll steal from every support group ever : Thanks For Sharing.

    Seriously, though, this was amazing to read. It’s rare in life that people can an open conversation about cancer. Most of us are too scared of the disease to want to actually talk about it. And so I appreciate that you were willing to talk about in a non-look-at-me sort of way.

    And, mostly, I’m glad you’re doing well. And now I’ll pay closer attention to how manipulative movies (and TV) can be.

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  3. Very very insightful post man, and it pains me to hear this, though it’s wonderful to feel the upbeat attitude in your words here. Is upbeat the right word? Yeah, eye guess it is. By the way, eye cancer? That’s crazy. I learn something new every day. My family just gets something boring, like breast cancer. *Yawn.*

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  4. You know that podcast you listened to yesterday? Well — this is what we look like:

    http://isaacspictureconclusions.com/2012/12/27/isaacs-interviews-lil-pee-pee/

    And the other voice is my friend Chris. His brother lost both of his eyes to cancer when he was a child – I think it was the same thing. It was something very rare that, back in he 70s, wasn’t treatable. If you come to my party, you guys will definitely have something to talk – and fart about.

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  5. I know this wouldn’t have been easy for you to write Michael. I hope you know how proud we all are of you and how far you have come in the last three years. For me, this has been your best blog to date!!

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  6. I agree, I feel like sometimes Hollywood summarises cancer to a fraction of the real experience in order to squeeze any possible emotion out of their audience. It’s not all bucket lists and skydiving, that’s for sure. Thank you for your honesty and insight! This is a message everyone needs to hear.

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  7. Hi Mikey. That’s the truth about films–time is suspended, condensed, modified into a 2 hour format. Not realistic at all! My mother was diagnosed this past year with eye cancer. She had a deflective shield placed behind her eye ball and was zapped. Like you, visit after visit. It’s boring and scary and dreadful. My sympathies!

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  8. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read, mate! Love your wit. I think movies don’t always (as in a lot) get the whole mental illness thing correct (which makes me want to still your idea here and write one on that!). Also I am with those people that say you are so much better off without the 3D, totes. πŸ˜‰

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  9. Excellent write up. I’m struggling with whether or not to make a tasteful eye joke. My sister had colon cancer twice and it most definitely was not glamorous or a lighthearted romp. It was pretty shitty, actually (colon joke).

    In all seriousness, it’s good you have proton therapy available to you. It’s definitely the way to go to do less damage to surrounding organs and tissue, especially since yours isn’t too far from your brain. Hope everything continues to go well. Have you considered a really cool patch?

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    • Thanks Brian, i’m happy as long as the eye joke isn’t tasteful! That’s awful for your sister, it’s a horrible thing to have happen.

      I was lucky because all of my treatment was free due to living in the UK. Its the only proton beam in Europe so i saw a lot of people having to pay thousands for the treatment. The beam zapped my tumour good and proper, it just fried my retina too. I’m always up for a cool eyepatch Snake Plissken style!

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  10. Wow Mikey what a great post! Feel bad for thinking you were pulling our legs the other night with the no 3D thing. This is a damn fine summation of your experience. STILL a good movie in my opinion, though I really think you should have mass produced that meth…

    Thank you for sharing this!

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  11. Aww Mikey…THIS is why you can’t see 3D movies. I had no idea. 😦 Thank you for sharing this. I’ve never really thought about it, but you’re right–the Hollywood version of cancer is waaaay different from the reality. Nice job, and keep fighting to good fight, brother!! πŸ™‚ P.S. I’m sure those adoring, screaming girls are on their way. πŸ˜‰

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  12. Great post, dude! I already knew you couldn’t see out of one eye so couldn’t watch 3D films but didn’t know why. It’s awesome that you’ve managed to keep such a great sense of humor (proper American spelling there). And, yeah – Aniston really gets on my nerves these days. I’d like to see HER head blow up Scanners-style in a movie someday. πŸ™‚

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  13. Oh my, I’m so sorry to hear about your eye cancer man. This is a great post as you obviously has a personal experience that most Hollywood writers don’t. My brother is blind in one eye too, not from cancer but something about his nerves snapped or something which is so horrible. To answer your question, I thought 50/50 was a heartfelt film about cancer, that’s the only one I can think of right now.

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    • Thanks Ruth, actually 50/50 is the closest thing to my experience that Ive seen. It was funny even during upsetting parts and didn’t go over the top with the emotional stuff. Its definitely the most realistic one in my opinion.

      Thanks for the great comment πŸ™‚

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  14. to answer your question 50/50! watched on your recommendation i might add. you agreed it was like your experience. It definitely touched a nerve with me from the friends and family portrayal. Proud of you for writing about this at last. Your wit as always is first class

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  15. Wow! Is all I can think of to say first. That was an incredibly insightful post. I have had two friends that had cancer, one is passed now and the other has beaten it and I will always remember their struggles. I’m glad that you posted this and that you have such a strong handle on it.

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  16. Thank you for the link to this wonderful (and brilliantly witty) post, Mikey. This is a brave thing to post and I hope Hollywood get it right in the near future. Best wishes πŸ™‚

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  17. Great post πŸ™‚ A close family member has been struggling with cancer for over five years now and none of us were prepared for how to deal with it.
    The Jennifer Aniston line slayed me by the way. I love how you’ve used humour here, it’s great πŸ™‚ I really hope everything goes okay for you from here on in.

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  18. I did not know of this cancer situation in your life, and I am terribly sorry for it. Don’t you go dying on me, Mikey. I need you around to post a bunch more podcasts! The eye laser thing sounds kinda cool.

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      • Yayy! πŸ™‚
        Whoa, particle accelerator and everything eh? One time I had a CAT scan and that was pretty freaky. I couldn’t imagine having stuff put in my eyes. It’s like you have to be extra brave compared to the chemo peeps!

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  19. And now I’m over here!

    You’re so right about cancer in movies. Why can’t we have some stories where there’s some other plot and the character just happens to have cancer? Like you say, you still have to pay your bills, try to maintain relationships and get to the end of computer games. Why does the illness have to be the defining element and why are there only those two stories? That’s just my two pence, though.

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    • Thanks for the comment! 50/50 did quite a good job. My favourite ever Cancer story ever is in the TV show Archer. He gets breast cancer and goes on a rampage killing irish mafia people for selling fake cancer drugs. It’s really hilarious.

      I also wrote about ‘The Fault in our Stars’ from the perspective of someone with cancer. I really liked the film.

      We really need to get back to the blogging! People need to hear our opinions! πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

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