The Big C

I’ve been working my way through the television series The Big C on dvd. I just finished season three and it’s been quite the roller coaster ride. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch it in the beginning, because of the subject matter. I thought a tv show about cancer might be too much right now. As I worked my way through the first season I realized it was kind of cathartic to watch someone elses’ experience with cancer. Because the main character is a fictional woman who receives a terminal diagnosis, Cathy Jamison is able to have crazy, irrational, emotional, bold, and yes, funny outbursts and reactions that most of us can only experience vicariously through someone else.

Laura Linney plays Cathy on The Big C.

It has been interesting to watch the highs and lows, suffering and triumphs, and most of all, emotional processing of a terminal cancer diagnosis and its affect on Cathy and all of the people in her life. I have been hooked from episode one and waited and marathon watched all of the dvds I could get from Netflix. Unfortunately, I am stuck with no season four dvds available yet. It is testing my patience, but I also received a big hint at the end of season three as to how season four will go. I can wait.

When I really get attached to tv characters and the shows they’re on it is hard to say goodbye to them. I feel Cathy and her family slipping away as we head into the fourth and final season together. The show has done an excellent job of representing diversity and strong female characters of varying ages, backgrounds and life experiences. The male characters are great supporting parts and I am especially fond of Cathy’s brother Sean, the rebel and outcast who doesn’t follow traditional societal norms. In fact, he crashes through them every chance he gets. Despite that and being a sometimes unstable bipolar person who gives his sister a hard time, he is unconditionally supportive and loyal when it comes down to it.

To sit back and watch another person react to facing death in ways that are liberating, hilarious, and sometimes horrifying, pulls at my heart strings. In the bigger picture, we root for Cathy. When she is urged to go through unconventional treatment instead of giving up, I rooted for her. I felt the same when she finally got into a clinical trial she was desperate to get into. Part of me feels bad because I am watching the sometimes desperate acts of a woman with a much more tragic diagnosis than mine. Most of all, I feel a kinship with Cathy and it feels good when I see her kicking ass and taking names. She makes some wrong choices because she is human, but for the most part, she is acting out for those of us who can’t. She is the voice of so many women who have faced cancer and their own mortality, even if she acts badly at times.

I wouldn’t recommend this show to anyone who doesn’t want to see a “brave bitch” fight for her life and struggle with facing her mortality. It isn’t easy or pretty and often is what most would describe as inappropriate, but man is some of it funny. It’s my favorite kind of funny too – the sarcastic, messy, intelligent kind of funny. It’s brilliant and even if you don’t agree with how Cathy handles things, you have to hope she will be cured, so we can keep on enjoying her company and adventures.

I think the boxing gloves are a great symbol for what it feels like to battle cancer. It’s an endurance game and you have to land punches and stay on your feet while getting punched back.

The subject of a cancer patient being selfish came up and I had to agree that Cathy is sometimes selfish. I also have to say that most people have no idea how they will react to a terminal cancer diagnosis until it happens. A standard cancer diagnosis is enough to send a person into uncharted territory emotionally. I feel selfish on the days I don’t feel well and want to be left alone in my misery. Maybe it’s the opposite, I don’t know. I don’t want others to feel bad because I’m lying on the sofa and am struggling to eat. I don’t want them to feel like they have to wait on me or drop everything in order to stare at me while I feel nauseous and unable to eat. I appreciate those who check in and want to care for me, but I also like feeling like I’m practicing self-care by doing what I can myself.

It’s also crucial to have a support system and not be so stubbornly independent that you are incapable of accepting help. Cathy does many things on her own, but at the heart of it all, she has her family. I have friends and family that are here for me and are supporting me 110% of the way. It’s been interesting for me to have had four different friends take me to chemo, with costumes and such to make it fun. It’s nice that they want to be there and see what I go through every week. They have met my doctor and those tending to my health needs, seen how my port is accessed, and sat with me while I sleep or Facebook or eat in my chemo chair of the week. I felt bad at first, but then I realized they want to be there for me, with me. It’s been an interesting experience and I’ve enjoyed it. I am grateful.

Cathy’s family and an uninvited extra guest.

When relationships and situations deteriorate on a tv show, it is easy to say that you know what the characters should do to make things better. In our own lives, we tend to not have all of the answers and sometimes think it’s easier to walk away instead of trying to work on saving the relationship. Unlike Cathy, my spouse is essential to my care and survival. I’m not saying I couldn’t survive without her, I could. I would be missing out on the feeling of security she gives me. I know I can tell her I just don’t feel good or want to hide for days, moving between my bed and sofa, doing little in between. Unlike the tv characters, we are able to work through all of this without affairs, disagreements, lying, and so on. Even though I may be facing a shorter than expected life span, we keep talking about the future and the road ahead of us. It’s very comforting.

In season one Andrea, one of Cathy’s high school students, tells her “I, for one, think you’re a pretty brave bitch.” She even makes a custom shirt for Cathy that is bedazzled with “brave bitch” on it. I love that. To face this kind of illness head-on does force you to be brave. I, like Cathy, embrace the idea of being a brave bitch because I’m fighting a disease that wants to kill me and I’m trying to do it with humor, honesty, and as little complaining as possible. I know it’s only going to get worse from here through the end of my chemo and I’m owning it, or at least trying to.

Cathy’s response to her employer after she tells her to be more professional about things. It’s a response we have all wanted to give to someone at some point in our lives, and we can live vicariously through her actually doing it.


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