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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!