Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Last night, I watched the excellent 50/50 at the Blue Loon. It's about a young guy who is suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer, and how he copes and how his interpersonal relationships evolve. It was really well-done, with enough comedy to lighten what could easily have been a maudlin, treacly, depressing movie. It had a likeable cast and *spoiler ahead. Only highlight the white space below if you don't mind the spoiler*

a happy ending. The guy survives.

Nevertheless, I did not need to see that. It hit just a bit too close to home for me, and I didn't need to relive the time I spent taking care of my ex, Dan, when he had cancer. It also made me wonder about something else.

In movies and literature that address cancer, significant others, family, and friends divide into two types. The first type turn out to be True Love/Good Family/True Friends who will Stand By the cancer patient. The second type turn out to be the Untrue Loves/Bad Family/Fair Weather Friends who are uncomfortable with our hero and distance themselves. They aren't necessarily presented as bad people; just people who lack the strength to be True.

Even in stories that don't contain cancer explicitly, there are references to idealized, still-in-love-after-umpteen-years couples who Knew Their Love Was True when decades prior, one nursed the other through cancer, when he/she Could Have Run Away. These are common tropes.

There is absolutely nothing in literature or movies, that I have seen, that addresses how a caretaker might happily, willingly take care of a loved one, and then after the cancer has gone into remission, the relationship might fall apart all the same.

When Dan was in California when he was diagnosed, and I took a leave of absence from University to move down there to take care of him, it did not cross my mind at the time that NotGoing was an option. Imagine my surprise to arrive in California and hear friends and acquaintances bang on about about how I was some kind of hero, or martyr, to stay with him through that. Only then did it cross my mind that I might have remained in Fairbanks instead. But I didn't see it as a choice, and anyway, I was thankful for the chance for loving service.

Year later, when Dan's cancer was years in remission, and news got out that our relationship had ended, I heard/read such heart-wrung comments, about how "we had been through so much together" and blahblah, and they could not believe how the relationship could fall apart "after all that" and yakkity-yak. Because they were shocked that the movie trope could possibly be false.

Taking care of someone through cancer is not a proof of True Love that will stand the test of time, because love and affection don't mean a danged thing about long-term compatibility. It's only proof of current love. And it doesn't make you a hero. It just makes you a decent sort of person who steps up properly to responsibilities that come with a relationship.

I think there is a gaping hole in fiction. Watch out over the next few years for my novel. But you've already gotten the spoilers for this one. The Cancer Patient will survive. The ending will come to a satisfying conclusion, but the erstwhile True Love will end.


flying fish said...

That's sort of like when I was helping my folks At The End of their lives. While they were alive, I was "doing God's work". After they were gone... well, there's a weird void between what other people (are supposed to) say and what you're really feeling.

Movies don't have enough space for both good and bad guys all in one person. The terminal illness plot has way more involved than what Hollyweird can sell.

Life aint no dichotomy, it's not all black and white... I am convinced that 'growing up' is just discovering the vast gray area.

[No Nickname] said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bt said...

Well said, Arvay!

I have similar thoughts about my brother's stay with us.

Did it because it was the right thing to do. It was hard, and once in the middle of it, I definitely realized there were other options, but at the beginning, it seemed like the only option.

And, our relationship is not solely defined by that time or how we helped him.

Our relationship continues to evolve and grow with periods of closeness, distance, talking, not talking, love, and drama, and stress -- you know, normal brother/sister stuff.

If we are lucky, Life Goes On (which means things continue to change and evolve).

Allmycke said...

I've been the cancer patient twice with an SO who tried his best to stand by my side - and couldn't do it after the second round. Three years later I can see all that, but at the time when our realtionship ended, I couldn't.

Arvay said...

{{{hugs}}} all around!