|Izzie Stevens/Grey's Anatomy|
(great sheets, eh?)
Snarkologists will recall the amazing case of the beauteous Izzie Stevens on Grey's Anatomy. Diagnosed with melanoma that had spread to her brain (clearly child’s play), she was given only a 5 percent chance of survival — and survive she did.
After that there’s no place to go but up, so when I heard that the writers of Parenthood were bringing breast cancer into the lives of Kristina and Adam Braverman, I pounced. The show has taken on autism, substance abuse and adoption in past seasons.
Parenthood is a multi-generational saga where all the adult children and their spouses, ex-spouses, live-ins, children and soon-to-be fur children live in the same town as Mom and Dad, just like the rest of you do. In my family everyone moved straight out of Dodge after high school, which is why my family has not been and never will be the model for a television show.
No matter. A typical Parenthood show zooms in and out of each character's world and includes “real life” situations like freak-outs over Dad’s failure to renew his driver’s license, children with stomach aches the first day of school, work woes for the single parent Sarah with Ray Romano in a new career low as her photographer boss, anal over-achievers who schedule everything on their iPhones and sub-optimal, under-achieving ones, who laugh at the anal ones yet forget to pick up the kid at school.
Just my kind of show. Now bring on the cancer.
Which is exactly how it happens in the real world. One moment you’re swimming along in the stream of life then in the next cancer drops into your world like an atomic bomb. Your thinking explodes into a million bits, while at the same time, you strive mightily to keep your formerly normal face in place.
In the lull before the storm Kristina and Adam argue in bed about getting a dog. I swear this is a conversation DH and I had years ago, before Fur Child #One.
“He’s going to crap all over the place,” Adam says.
“So what? So do you.” So much for wifely humor. “I’m teasing.”
Is that what it looked like, I wondered.
It certainly felt real.
What didn’t feel quite as accurate were scenes with the two different physicians, stereotypes squared, that Kristina and Adam consult. One is abrupt, hurried, obnoxious. He tells Kristina she has an early stage breast cancer that should be removed right away and oh, by the way, he has an opening at 8 am Friday. Color us surprised.
His polar opposite is a female physician with a consulting room straight out of Architectural Digest. Oh, for that sofa. She’s on emote control, empathy and confidence reverberating in equal parts.
In the interim, Kristina has coffee with another breast cancer patient, who seems to know exactly what Kristina needs to do and tells her so in no time flat.
What? Really? This is when I remember it’s television. The support of survivors is essential, but if someone I’d just met was in my face to that degree in the week following my diagnosis she would have been talking to the hand. My ears would have sewn themselves shut.
All these nuances. There is never going to be a television portrayal that really “gets” cancer. Every year some 230,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. That means that are that many stories plus those of their friends, families, and the people that care for them. Everyone has their take on what is real about cancer.
There are two thing though, that need to undergo a seismic change across the cancer culture, from co-survivors to educators to nurses to social workers to doctors. The first is the notion that the internet is armageddon.
“You’re not doing what the doctor said you’re not supposed to do are you,” Adam says when he finds Kristina web surfing.
The internet is not the enemy. The internet is not going to create fear in a patient. The fear following a cancer diagnosis is part of assimilating new and difficult information. Patients are going to surf the internet for medical information in the exact same way that teenagers are going to pick pimples. It is going to happen. They are especially guaranteed to search, in fact, in absence of other information. If the physicians we turn to aren’t routinely sending their newly diagnosed patients home with a list of excellent web sites (that is if the physician doesn't have his or her own!) on breast cancer, and many helpful books as well, then part of the job has gone undone.
The other seismic shift, equally shared in medical culture, is how to play the role of positivity in dealing with illness. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer aren’t feeling sick to begin with. They walk from the land of the well into the land of the bald, the nauseated, the medical record number, the breastless and the reconstructed. Then they are encouraged to stay positive about all this, as if failing to do so will somehow impede their survival.
Think about that. It makes no sense.
This plays out as Adam and Kristina navigate the first murky, anxious days following the consults. When he finds her surfing the web, he reminds her that she needs to stay positive. Here’s what happens later. This is scene scripted from any cancer patient’s life.
To the writers and cast of Parenthood? Well done.
“You just have to let me be scared.”
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