I read The Fault In Our Stars just before my surgery…I think. I don’t know, the cancer timeline has blurred. I might have read it between surgery and the start of chemo. Either way, I read it when I was deep into the emotional pool of cancer, treading water in order to find my way to some stable ground, so the book resonated with me deeply. I remember thinking the author, John Green, probably had cancer because I was struck with just how much truth there was in the first 2 chapters. He, despite NOT having cancer, developed an intimate knowledge of the cancer experience, what the patients are forced to consider and what we FEEL. It was refreshing to know others understood, even if they didn’t physically feel, the experience.
Then I realized the book was set in Indianapolis. But not some fictional creation plopped down in the boundaries of our city’s namesake…but actually IN Indianapolis. I’ve been to the parks Green describes. I’ve run in the neighborhoods. I’ve filled up at the gas station where Augustus has his late night brush with death.
That book didn’t just hit close to home…that book IS home.
Part of me loved the sense of connection I felt with both the story and the setting. Even today, I run by “Funky Bones” in the 100 Acres park Green describes and all I can think of is the book and the story (anyone want a personal “TFIOS” tour?). But, in a way, it’s now become TOO close to home. With the release of the movie came the flood of excitement by so many moviegoers who rightfully loved the book, loved the story, and have approached the film with the same level of enthusiasm as a comic nerd would to the newest X-Men. And that feels weird.
That feels weird because, to many of us, this is nothing to be excited about.
I quickly debated seeing the film and then even more quickly realized that would be awful. Now, I don’t fault anyone for wanting to see the movie, to approach it with the expected disconnect that we enter most films, recognizing them as abstractions, as simply stories. I would not want to deprive someone of this experience, but on a personal level, I just can’t get excited about seeing the film. I haven’t seen it, and I most likely won’t. Not while I’m in the middle (beginning? end?) of this cancer experience. It’s simply not fictional to me, unfortunately. This is, again, far too close to home…literally.
When I was in the hospital, a well-intentioned friend told me I should start watching Breaking Bad. In his mind, he thought I would enjoy the story line and get a kick out of the somewhat dark humor of the parallels between the show and my life. He thought, “He has cancer. You have cancer. You’ll love it!” Normally, he would be right, but there is that disconnect again. It’s just all too real and although I make cancer jokes and keep myself grounded through all this, the emotional weight is very heavy and even more difficult to push aside. So when I was trying to recover in my hospital bed, I started watching Breaking Bad, when all of a sudden, in the middle of the 3rd episode I freaked out and shut it off, internally yelling, “Ahh! What are you doing?! This is awful!” I never tried to watch it again, despite the internet’s enthusiasm with the show and attempt to quell the spoilers.
And then I turned it on last night. I thought maybe I should give it another try, while I’m doing very well emotionally, and before surgery comes again. Maybe this time I could find the humor in it all. I finished that 3rd episode, then went on to the fourth and fifth before falling asleep….with a disturbed feeling trying to keep me awake. I woke feeling the same.
That was stupid.
Right now, I’m doing very well emotionally. I’m very physically active, building a living doing what I love (design and running coaching), maintaining a very stress-free life, and simply enjoying every day, but I know this is temporary. Surgery is on the horizon and everything is about to come crashing down, and I should have known better than to jump back into that emotional cancer well, knowing how hard it can be to climb back out.
Sometimes, it feels important to let go and submerge myself in the cancer experience, feeling the emotional weight press down upon me, almost wallowing in the sadness. That can be cathartic. It can give perspective. But it can also be stifling. It can cast a negative shadow on days that would otherwise be bright and positive…so I’m trying to be careful with the influences I let into my life. And I know I’m not alone in this.
I’m not the only one avoiding The Fault In Our Stars. I’m not the only one who doesn’t share dominant culture’s enthusiasm for the story.
It’s a good story, no doubt. But for some of us, it’s not just a story. It’s a reality that doesn’t end after 2 hours, without scrolling credits, without a beautiful soundtrack, without the sense of relief that comes from knowing that when the sadness ends…so does the emotional involvement. We have to live with this everyday and make the most of it.
But I don’t mean to sound scolding or self-pitying, because honestly…I’m doing pretty good, and despite (or because of) all that has unfolded in the last year, my life feels even greater than anything Hollywood can fabricate. That’s no story.