NPR TFIOS Interview

Hello friends!

If you read my last post, you’d know that I have been taking advantage of some really great opportunities lately! One of which, was participating in an interview with NPR about The Fault In Our Stars (perfect timing since I just finished my review of the book and saw the movie). NPR’s Nancy Shute wanted to write an article comparing the way that YA/teen life with cancer is shown in TFIOS to what it is like in real life, so they contacted my hospital. They gathered a few patients who fit the age group and had read the book in order to get their perception. I was one of those patients, and it just so happened that I only read the book so that I could make those comparisons on my own blog!

Of course, I am very grateful for having had the chance to participate in this interview. It is exciting to me that a larger platform like NPR would do a story like this, drawing attention to the fact that what we see on TV and in movies is not always the truth, especially when it pertains to cancer. You can read the NPR article, written by Nancy Shute, here. If you took a moment to read it, you might notice that I did not have an answer to every question. In fact, I was not asked every question that they included, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an answer! So I thought that it would be fun to answer all of the questions here on my own blog.

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So is the movie version of cancer anything like cancer in real life?

I was weary of the movie because blockbuster cancer movies are typically unrealistic and over-dramatic. For example, they hang giant bags of horrible looking red chemo all over, people are constantly vomiting, and that’s just not how it is. I was so relieved and surprised to see that they didn’t do that! I feel strongly about this because I had a hard time convincing myself to sign the papers necessary so that I could begin chemotherapy because the only perceptions of chemo and cancer that I had were from movies and television. My nurses literally had to tell me, ‘If you’re thinking it’s like what you see on TV, it isn’t.’ I had this warped perception of how the chemotherapy would affect me. I don’t want other people to feel that way.

Truthfully, the movie doesn’t show much of what cancer, in terms of chemotherapy, is like. Neither of the two main characters are going through intense chemotherapy for the majority of the movie, this is also why they have full heads of hair. Instead, the movie focuses on life after cancer, or at least, a more stable prognosis. It shows more of the mental and emotional struggles that us cancer patients face, especially at the teen/young adult age. Of course, everyone’s experience with cancer (mentally, emotionally, physically) is different, but I thought that this was a good, realistic representation of what someone could go through.

Hazel and Gus joke about “cancer perks” and the “stereotypical Disney wish.” Did you get those?

Being over the age of eighteen at diagnosis I did not get a Make A Wish, Children’s hospital or no. To be honest I didn’t even know that everyone got a wish. Also, I was in Disneyland the week before I got diagnosed, so I don’t think I would have asked for that even if I did get a wish. I do really relate to “cancer perks,” it is something I say and hashtag on my Instagram posts. I think those kinds of sarcastic, ironic remarks are just part of being a young person with cancer!

Loneliness is a real theme for Hazel, the idea that she’s so isolated from regular teenage life. Did that happen to you?

When I got diagnosed, I was living in a different state than my family. I was just beginning my life and building my own community. Deciding to get treatment back at home with my family meant leaving my best friends and my independent life behind. I was never alone, but I definitely felt and still feel that I don’t have that social aspect in my life here, not with people my age. I don’t even know where to make friends now that I am not in school. I don’t feel like anyone isolated me on purpose, but I do feel isolated sometimes watching my friends go out and have fun without me. I know that they are still my best friends and that I will be able to get back to them soon.

Let’s talk hair. Did it bother you that Hazel made it through the movie with a full head of hair?

This did not bother me. People who go through chemotherapy do not always lost their hair. I wouldn’t have expected Hazel to be bald because she is not going through high dose chemotherapy, she is on a maintenance drug. I have begun growing my hair back since starting maintenance chemotherapy (low dose). It would have been unrealistic, in my opinion, for her to be bald.

Do you think the movie will help teenagers and adults be better prepared for their own health crises?

When I was first diagnosed, I wracked my brain for anything that I knew about cancer, leukemia and chemo. Most prominently I thought of A Walk to Remember, a story about a girl who had leukemia, she dies. Then, My Sister’s Keeper, oh wait, she dies. There were a few TV shows I remembered like Sex and the City, Samantha gets breast cancer and is seen with a giant bag of bright red chemo going in to an IV, yuck. Also Parenthood, Christina gets breast cancer and spends weeks in front of the toilet barfing her guts out. If anything, these things made me more afraid than I already was for this new chapter in my life. I figured I could either die or wish I was dead from overwhelming amounts of nausea. So no, speaking from my own experience, I do not think that The Fault In Our Stars would prepare anyone for a health crisis. It is about a girl who is going to die and a boy who dies. And when you are sitting in your hospital bed thinking, what is going to happen to me? you are not going to think of Hazel or Gus and feel comforted. You are going to push them out of your mind and think about how strong you are, how you are different, how you can do this and that whatever happens you will be okay. I don’t know that anyone will ever be prepared to hear that they have cancer.

**I would like to note that I do not intend for this post to symbolize any kind of negativity towards NPR, Nancy Shute, or her article. I had a lovely conversation with Nancy and am so grateful to her for allowing me to participate as well as for touching on this subject matter at all! I just thought this would be a good follow up post for my blog.**

Thanks for checking this out everyone, would love to know your thoughts/answers to these questions too! Comment below if you’ve got something to add!

xoxo Kathy

My thoughts: The Fault in Our Stars Book

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It’s been a few weeks and I’m happy to say that I have finished reading and processing the book The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS) by John Green. I mentioned a few posts ago that I would be reading and reviewing the book from a cancer patients perspective. Check out my apprehensions and assumptions before reading the novel here.

Taking the time to read my aforementioned post, you would know that I was especially nervous to begin reading the book. Taking the few extra moments to read the acknowledgement pages was greatly comforting, thanks to the author’s note, which reiterated that the story was a work of fiction to all readers. Feeling empowered by this notice, as if John Green was on my side, I began the first chapter. It took me a few days to finish the book, and for someone who has all the time in the world, that’s kind of a lot. I wouldn’t call it a page turner and I personally I found the story line to be too predictable. But hey, that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to see that cancer, and people living with cancer are represented properly to a population largely made up of people with little knowledge of the disease.

Upon completion of the novel I can say that overall I was pleasantly surprised by the portrayal of a life lived with cancer. Not medically, as John Green gracefully discredits the scientific accuracy in the final pages of acknowledgements, but mentally and emotionally. I believe that cancer, for the patient, is a mental battle, more than it is physical. That is where we all overlap in some way. So that is what I was focusing on as I read this novel, looking for any way to overlap with Hazel, the narrator and main character.  It wasn’t hard, like I expected it to be. I even found myself highlighting different excerpts and thinking things like, “that’s exactly how it feels.” Even some of the sarcastic terms used like, “cancer perks” and “cancer side effects,” remind me of similar sayings used in my own day-to-day. I am happy to say that my assumptions about TFIOS, the book, were wrong. Cancer life was not misrepresented to millions of superfans all around the world. Way to go John Green!

Now, some people have spoken to me about the novel and how it “romanticizes” cancer. Well, it does. I personally don’t fault the book for that. It wouldn’t be as successful if it wasn’t a love story. And as a person who has suffered through cancer and lives with obvious differences (like Hazel’s oxygen) I would like to think that someday I can meet someone who has had similar experiences to me and can understand why I walk with a limp, or a cane, or crutches and love me anyway. They won’t think it’s creepy how often I think about death or how I’ll probably have fake hips by age 22 or that I know what it’s like to want to die. Because they will have experienced it too. But those are my own problems.

Overall, as a cancer patient looking to see that the story was an accurate representation of the struggle, I’d say that it was. In terms of reading for pleasure, I was not particularly enamored by the romantic love story between two suffering teenagers.

Gonna see the movie this week and I’ll put up a post of my thoughts on that soon!

xoxo Kathy

I Am Not A Hypocrite! (TFIOS Pre-Review)

Phew! I am beat. My counts are pretty high right now so my doctors have been increasing my chemo doses the last few weeks and I’m really starting to feel it. Either that or I’m feeling tired because I haven’t been able to exercise because of my hip issues/surgery incision. Fortunately, I got my MRI today and will hopefully know tomorrow what the deal is with the bum hip! Praying that it will not effect my running. I’m also feeling a little weird because I’m hoping my counts have dropped enough that they will lower my chemo again. Who wants their counts to be low? Just me.. okay. bye.

So I’ve decided to start reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Greene. In case you haven’t heard, seems like a fictional novel about a cancer patient/teen romance type deal. I’ve been skeptical about reading it because I know that it’s about a cancer patient. I don’t really know anything else about it except that it is being made into a movie. Both of these things make me feel a little bit uncomfortable about it. I first heard about the book while I was deep in chemo and knew that I didn’t want to read it then. I was too emotionally fragile to read about anyone else’s cancer, especially if it was fictional, while I was dealing with the real thing.

The truth of it is that nothing you see on television or hear from other people is going to define your experience with cancer. It is absolutely unique in every aspect for each and every person effected. That’s the truth, and that’s what matters. With that said, it’s hard to keep that in mind when you’re actually going through it. I was constantly comparing myself to other people who had cancer. This person lived, this person died, this person was horribly nauseous, this person had a horrible reaction to that chemo, blah blah blah. Eventually, I would remind myself that these people are not me, they don’t have my cancer, they don’t have my markers, they don’t have my doctors, they don’t have the same body, they are different. We all are. That said, they only way I was really able to solve that problem for myself (during chemo) was to avoid at all costs any stories of other people with cancer. Thus ruling out reading/watching/participating in TFIOS.

When I found out that they were making a movie about it, I became even more suspicious. As most people who have experienced cancer/chemo/radiation know, Hollywood loves to dramatize the experience. That’s great for Hollywood, but not great for people who get diagnosed with cancer and know nothing but what they see on TV, which seems miserable and awful  (i.e. me). Literally, the first thing my nurses said to me at the hospital when I was expressing my concerns was that I should throw anything I’ve seen on TV out the window. This worries me. I cannot support anything that will get so much publicity and touch so many people if it is a misrepresentation. There are already so many misconceptions about cancer/chemo, the world doesn’t need anymore false information. I don’t want anyone else to be as unprepared as I was for a cancer diagnosis.

With all of that said, I’ve been thinking about it a lot and both of those reasons for not reading the book are flawed. First of all, I can’t literally judge a book by its cover. I honestly don’t know anything about the story. All of what I just said is complete speculation on my part and I’m not down for that. Also, I just argued that everyone’s cancer experience is different, therefore, who am I to judge whether or not the characters/plot of this book are accurate or not? How will I ever know if John Green is dealing out “misinterpretations of cancer” if I don’t read the book? Therefore, I must read the book. At least then I will know the truth of it, either way.

Please comment if you’d like to share your perspective, but don’t spoil anything!

Stay tuned for my new review after I read The Fault In Our Stars! Hopefully will have it done by the time I get back from Ireland.

Thanks for reading!

xoxo Kathy