14. The Cancer Show: A Cast of Thousands

This summer I wrote an essay on the Pink Ribbon Blues Blog called, “Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud.” It was one of the few times I revealed how much cancer influences my life both as a researcher and as a person. Breast cancer is my primary topic of study, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the fact that so many people in my life are dealing with the ongoing drudgery of the disease.

Of course, many people continue to thrive after a cancer diagnosis, even amid major difficulties. But the weight of cancer and its impact on people’s lives is palpable. Just look around.

Diagnoses. Treatments. Side Effects. Recurrences. Diminished quality of life. Stress on interpersonal relationships. Guilt about how cancer affects loved ones. Financial difficulties from health care costs or having no health insurance at all. Changes in capacity to work and live the kind of lives they want to live. This shortlist barely scratches the surface.

After I wrote the cloud essay, I heard from quite a few people that they too are overwhelmed with cancer. One of them is Stephanie McCanles from The Cancer Show. THE CANCER SHOW is a documentary project that takes a “light-hearted look at how U.S. health policy politics and profit-driven healthcare drive common misperceptions about cancer to the general public at large – while ignoring the possible causes.” No doubt breast cancer is a leading character in this tale of carcinogenic proportions along with environmental cancer risks, blind consumption, and the cancer industry. The creators of the show hope to inspire, entertain, and illuminate as they encourage public participation in one of the most critical problems facing citizens today. Here is what Stephanie wrote:

The Cancer Show: A Cast of Thousands

Gayle Sulik, whose book PINK RIBBON BLUES is required reading at THE CANCER SHOW, has posted something heartbreaking, true and basic to our current view of cancer. She is such a bright light of sanity in a dark subject.

We here at THE CANCER SHOW are hardly immune. Lately, we’ve been a little hard hit. As one of us waits for the results of a biopsy for a beloved parent, the other two of us are resigned to hear that the experimental treatment they tried on our sister-in-law hasn’t worked.

The cancer waiting room is enormous. The majority of us are sitting in it – for ourselves, for our families, our friends. We are waiting for test results, treatment results and “eventual outcomes”.

When you are young you joke about dying young. The “idea” of death is so weirdly seductive at that age. You’re still living in a self-absorbed poem of your own creation. But the reality of it is like a rip in the sky, a torn page out of your reality. Who needs alien abduction when there’s cancer, thinning out our ranks, taking those we love from us…

People ask WHY a movie about cancer. [Sulik writes:]

“Cancer is a human evolutionary condition. It is also an epidemic rooted in a society and culture that fails to recognize it for what it is and what it is not. Cancer is not a ribbon, a screening test, or a leisure activity. It is not a sassy t-shirt, a proclamation of survivorship, or a gift worth giving. It is a life-changing event; a disease process that ignites what is all too often a cycle of medical surveillance and interventions, of which some succeed and others cause irreparable harm. For 65 percent of those who are diagnosed, it will be the eventual cause of death. To ignore this reality for the sake of convenience, feel-good activities, fund-raising, ideological or political grandstanding, or profiteering is to alienate, burden, deny, and forsake those for whom cancer is a major cause of suffering. They deserve better than this, and so do we.”


After I drew my heart back out of my gut from reading this, I realized more deeply the importance of remembering that hope involves an ongoing conversation with despair. And that speaking our truths about cancer — even those that are difficult to utter and maybe even harder to hear — can truly make a difference.

For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

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2 comments to 14. The Cancer Show: A Cast of Thousands

  • i just wanted to leave a quick note. i wandered over here while searching for a new ‘cure cancer’ graphic for my blog’s sidebar. no, my blog has nothing to do with ‘cancer’…but having lost my sister to breast cancer, brother to gastric cancer, father to prostate cancer…i am always brought to tears when i hear other people’s stories. i feel their pain. deeply. anyway, i’m glad i stopped in…and will be back to look around.

  • This “conversation with despair” is necessary despite it being hard for many to hear. My response to those who don’t want listen, is this. Try hearing the words “you have cancer”. That’s harder. I can’t wait for this film.

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest cutt.ly/jei8WJr

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