Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cancer on TV

This morning, I got up earlier than usual so I could get so me work done while the family slept in. I have some duties at my job, and they have messed with my schedule; I'm trying to sneak in work when I can. The plan was to do a couple of hours of work, and maybe even sneak in a blog post, too. (I have about five posts that I plan to write, once I get some time.) I set myself up in the basement and turned on the TV for some background noise, which often helps me focus on what I'm doing. (A friend once told me this is because I'm a Gemini, and I need to do two things at once so my "twin" can stay busy. Whatever -- it seems to work.)

My background noise this morning has been a TV show called Red Band Society. It's a show about a special ward in a hospital in (I think) Los Angeles devoted to teenagers who need long-term care. They each have their own cool hospital room, they go to school with a tutor occasionally, and seem to be allowed to break out of the hospital without supervision whenever they want or need to. There's a cool kid with cystic fibrosis, a rich, spoiled cheerleader with a bad heart, a smart girl with anorexia, a former high school soccer star with cancer, and a few others. It's a teen drama, so it's kind of corny a lot of the time. But I think it makes its point -- young people (and probably all of us) need other people in hard times. that's where the title comes from: the teens in this ward wear special red identification bands on their wrists.

From what I can tell, the show is about to be cancelled; I think I heard an announcer say it was "the series finale."

I think I started watching this because it was kind of a test. The show Breaking Bad ended recently. Lots of people consider it the greatest television show ever made. I wouldn't know -- I've never seen it. I remember, 7 years ago, seeing the advertisements for it, and thinking it looked really good. And then, a week or two before it premiered, I was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma. And that was the end of Breaking Bad for me. No way I could watch a show about a teacher who was diagnosed with cancer and was worried about his family being taken care of so he started making crystal meth. That hit just a little too close to home. (Except the part about being a drug dealer.)

So when I saw a show about a bunch of people with illnesses, including cancer, it made me think of how far I'd come. I've seen plenty of movies about cancer, and TV shows, and goodness knows I've read a lot about it. But it was a nice reminder that things get better. Especially with a disease like Follicular Lymphoma, that can present in an indolent way like mine, the emotional issues are just as important as the physical one. Maybe even more important.

So if this is still pretty new to you, please keep telling yourself that it does get easier.


Now, as nice as it is to be able to see ourselves in the movies and TV shows we watch, and the internet articles and cancer memoirs that we read, sometimes they get it wrong.

In the finale, the former soccer star found out that his cancer had returned.

When his doctor told him and his mom the news, the doctor suggested he enroll in a clinical trial. The young patient ran from the room, and his mom looked at the doctor, worried.

"A trial usually means you're out of options. Are we?"

Now, this would have been the perfect time for the doctor to say, "No, that's not what a trial means. In fact, it's that misconception that keeps so many people out of clinical trials. But the fact is, in order for treatments to progress, we need more patients who are willing to join clinical trials, and not just as a last resort, so we can test out the treatments we have in the pipeline. And with the explosion of new treatments that we can expect in the next few years, based on our new and deeper understanding of the genetic causes of cancer, participation in trials will be even more important. So please stop believing that clinical trials are a last resort -- and tell your friends the same thing."

But he didn't say that. Instead, he looked at the mom significantly and said,

"I think the trial is his best hope."

And that would have been fine, if he said all of that other stuff I had suggested. But then they started talking about how cool it would be to meet Maroon 5as part of a Make-a-Wish program, and how much comfort it would bring to the mom to see her son so happy.

I know, it's TV, and the show was being canceled, and they needed to wrap things up. But I hate to see misinformation about cancer, especially when they do other things right.


The show ended with the teens together on the hospital roof, because patients are allowed access to hospital roofs whenever they want to go there. And the whole group sang the Rolling Stones song, "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

And I guess that's fitting in lots of ways, for them and for me.

Because, as Mick Jagger sings, "But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."

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