Perk of having cancer and living in LA: I got to see 50/50 tonight. For free. Nine days before it comes out. 50/50 is the new cancer comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. It’s weird that I consider this a perk–as if paying $12 for a movie ticket is worse than having cancer. As if $12 is more than any single charge on my medical bills (it’s not).
Anyway. When I first saw the trailer (below) a few months ago I was annoyed by the concept. I thought that the movie would just perpetuate the pop culture cancer stereotypes. That you get chemo through an IV. That you lose your hair. That you have a definable chance of surviving. This is how cancer can be for some people, I know; but increasingly, it seems to be changing. I don’t get my chemo through an IV, I haven’t lost my hair, and I don’t really have any clue about my chances of surviving. Yet it’s all lumped into this foreboding thing called cancer that you can’t talk about in polite company.
I imagined myself getting up in front of the theater after the movie and telling the crowd, “Hi–I have cancer too.” And then they would look at me, laugh, throw tomatoes, shake their heads, and leave the room. That girl can’t have cancer. She looks nothing like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She has a full head of hair, no port, and good color in her face. I knew that Will Reiser–the guy who wrote the movie–had cancer, and this movie was based on his experience with the disease. I respect that. I just wish there was more talk out in the world about other experiences with cancer. About not dying and not surviving, about just being a liver.
I still wish that. But after seeing the movie I am no longer critical or annoyed. The piece of paper I had out during the movie to write down notes of subjects to blog about was filled with parts of the movie I identified with. It was funny (not just for people in the cancer know), it was sweet, poignant, and sad. It didn’t dance around the hard parts; it didn’t make a joke out of everything. It wasn’t “Hollywood”–except for maybe the love story and the fact that he lives (of course, he wouldn’t have been able to write the movie if he didn’t).
It was real. I sobbed through the surgery/hospital scenes, having gone through it myself recently. I even considered leaving the theater for a few minutes so I didn’t have to keep imagining how I must have looked on the operating table in place of Joseph Gordon-Levitt or thinking back to my own pre-surgery moments and thoughts. I quickly laughed at the morphine jokes. I have a few morphine stories of my own. I cringed at his scar. I have a scar of my own. My similarly critical companions (who have experiences with cancer of their own) were also pleasantly surprised. I really appreciate that these guys made a movie about a young adult with cancer, one who’s single, goes out to bars, and tries to get laid like a normal guy. Life doesn’t stop when you get diagnosed with cancer.