The Fault In Our Stars, a movie based on the young adult novel of the same name by John Green, is currently number one at the box office. The narrator, Hazel, is a teenage thyroid cancer survivor. The cancer has spread to her lungs, but a fictional new drug is keeping the cancer at bay for now. At a support group, Hazel meets Augustus, an osteosarcoma survivor, and they form a special relationship.
As a young adult cancer survivor, I found the book and the movie adaptation to be an impressively accurate depiction of what it is like to be a young adult cancer survivor. Here are a few things the movie got right, half-right, and wrong.
Cancer survivors are people, not a diagnosis.
Right: Augustus asks Hazel to tell her story. Hazel immediately responds with a canned answer that explains her diagnosis and treatment. Augustus then clarifies what he actually wants to know are her hobbies and passions. As a cancer survivor, I got in the habit of doing the same thing as Hazel. You repeat your cancer story to your doctors, friends, and family so much that it becomes second nature to use that story as your life story. However, there is so much more to me than that. I am learning to stop using cancer as my identifying feature.
Cancer survivors want to protect their friends and family.
Right: Hazel doesn’t want to get close to Augustus at first. She says that she feels like a grenade that will destroy everything in its path, and she hopes to minimize the casualties. In the beginning, I also pushed many of my friends away. We were seniors in college. I didn’t want to bring them down with my problems. My good friends knew I was being ridiculous and stuck around.
Clinical trials do work.
Right: Thanks to a fictional clinical trial drug, Hazel’s lung metastases are not growing. Although phalanixfor is not a real drug, there are many real and successful clinical trials currently underway. I did not do a clinical trial, but the drug I received was only recently approved. Without clinical trials, cancer care cannot improve.
“Cancer perks” are real.
Right: Hazel and Augustus receive a trip to Amsterdam from the “genies,” a fictional Make-A-Wish-style foundation. When you have a cancer diagnosis, especially as a young adult, you do get “cancer perks.” I got to kayak in Montana for a week. I also got free snacks in the infusion room. I do not expect people to give me things because of my diagnosis, but it is nice when it happens.
Cancer has physical side effects.
Half-right: The movie got this half right. As Hazel, Shailene Woodley wears an oxygen cannula throughout the movie. She is usually in comfortable clothes without makeup. But, Hazel is on steroids. Steroids make you gain weight and retain water. While on steroids, my already round face swelled to the size of a pumpkin. It was not cute. I will concede that this may be a sensitive issue for me.
Support groups are terrible.
Wrong: The movie missed the mark on support groups. I love my support group, but the support group Hazel attends is a joke. The facilitator is a narcissist, and no one wants to participate. Support groups are not for everyone, and each support group is different, but some support groups are awesome. Everyone in my support group shares openly. We do talk about cancer, but we talk about everything else too. The people I met in support group are kind, funny, and inspirational. Meeting other young adult cancer survivors is the best “cancer perk.”