Just to be clear, I have no specific animus against John Green other than standard professional jealousy and inherent suspicion of people who preside over cults of personality.
And I haven't read The Fault in Our Stars. If you read to the end, I think you'll understand why.
Yesterday my twitter feed was going nuts with people OMGing about the trailer for the movie of The Fault in Our Stars. So I figured, what the hell, I'll click over and see what the fuss is about.
Now, again, I'm speaking here just about the three-minute trailer and not about the the book, which I haven't read. It's entirely possible that the shitshow I saw on the trailer is how Hollywood ruined a good book. It's certainly how I ruined my entire day. I watched this and got so pissed off I could barely see straight.
Because it's a lie.
These shiny-faced, pretty young people sparkling in the snow and the beautiful locations and mouthing platitudes about beauty and stuff don't get anywhere near the truth of watching a loved one die of cancer.
It's not pretty. It's not romantic. You do not gain any beautiful wisdom from it. Oh yeah, and cancer makes you hideous and wrecks your life before it kills you.
Here are a few pieces of my truth. I haven't written most of these things before because they are too painful to even think about. I am leaving some stuff out because it's too painful to think about.
A nice lunch out. This is in August, I think. The liver mets are taking their toll on her liver function already, though it will be a few more weeks before she's yellow all over. We have a great time, and then, outside the Back Bay Station, she vomits into a garbage can for about five minutes while people stare at her.
October. She's yellow from head to toe. She's bald from the last failed chemo. Always thin, she's now skeletal, with all her clothes hanging loosely off of her. She moves slowly and deliberately, like the very old and sick woman she resembles at age 35.
Saturday. She will die on Tuesday. Sitting in the living room with me and some of her friends, she gets confused. She fades in and out, and when she speaks, she sounds like someone who is very drunk. The sharpest, quickest-witted of anyone in the room, she's now unable to have a conversation. As the day goes on, she goes under for longer and longer periods of time--not asleep, really, but not able to maintain attention or do much of anything for more than about ten seconds at a time. She insists on reading our daughter a bedtime story. She can't make it through a single page of the picture book without pausing for ten, twenty, thirty seconds. It takes her twenty minutes to read a twelve page book. It later takes her a similar amount of time to floss her teeth. She lies down to sleep. She will never get up again.
Sunday night. I lie wide awake in bed and listen as she moans in her sleep. The cancer, which is in her liver and her brain and who the hell knows where else because they haven't scanned her since they told us she had six weeks to live, is making it painful for her to be alive. We have some morphine that the hospice people gave us, and, not knowing what to do, I give her another dose before she's supposed to get it, crushing a pill into applesauce and spooning it into her sleeping mouth. She semi-rouses and asks what the hell I'm doing and swats at my hand. I give up and she's only gotten a little more morphine. It doesn't help. She moans in pain for the entirety of her last night at home.
Monday: In the ambulance to the hospice, the paramedics tell me that we don't have a DNR, and if she dies on the road, they are going to be forced to attempt to resucitate her. Which essentially means they will beat the shit out of someone who's already in pain. I tell her that she needs to hold on until we get to the hospice. Her breathing is raspy and forced. We get to the hospice and I tell her she can go ahead and die any time she wants. She hasn't been able to eat for a few days, so it's only urine the nurses have to clean up when they put her into the bed she will die in.
I go and sit by her bed, listening to her labor for breath. Every once in a while there will be a pause, and I will pray that she'll be allowed to die. This prayer, like every one for her health I've made through the last 3 years is either ignored by a cruel sadistic thug in charge of the universe or is a stupid naive plea to something that doesn't exist. I prefer to believe the latter.
This doesn't cover all of the horror of this time. My imperfect memory is probably glossing over some of the awful stuff--there are details, even about the events I've sketched out above,that I can't access. This is a blessing.
None of this stuff caused "feels." It ruined something inside of me forever. Cancer turned a bright and vivacious and fiercely witty young woman into a shambling yellow skeletal horror as it tortured her to death, and before it took her from her family, it took away her dignity, her mobility, her independence, and her mind. It was cruel. It was ugly. It was so far beyond heartbreaking that I don't even know a word that will do it justice. And I and our daughter and our families and friends had to watch it happen without being able to do anything about it.
I'm going to go to facebook and tell everyone who knew and loved Kirsten not to read this because it will probably unlock their own memories that are so traumatic they cause physical pain and, in my case, nausea. That is what a death from cancer does, not just to the patient, but to everyone who cares about them.
So, I mean, I guess go enjoy shiny young people being beautiful as they die. I guess I'd just like it if you kept in mind that what you're watching is a thick layer of slick Hollywood bullshit over a vicious, ugly reality.