Nine pm, and the half-front-toothed person from down the hall is loitering in our bedroom after his nightly insulin shot. He keeps stealing looks at the TV screen, paused in Netflix binge mode on the Watch the Next Episode screen with the little text teaser below.
April’s cancer goes into remission, but her return to work isn’t as smooth. Meanwhile, Leo languishes in a coma.
So, you’re watching a cancer show? he finally says sheepishly. Why would you do that?
I don’t know, I say. I guess it makes me feel a little normal. Plus it’s really terrible and it makes me laugh.
Terrible how, he asks.
Terrible like characters bawling Well, maybe you forgot, but I have CANCER!!!
Oh, he says. That kind of terrible. Like calm down. We know. We’re sorry about your cancer but please stop yelling.
Yes, I say, exactly like that.
So my horrid guilty pleasure is out of the bag. A Netflix show that originally aired on—um—ABC Family. It’s called Chasing Life and it’s about a reporter in her 20s who is diagnosed with leukemia. The best part about it is that it is based on—and styled after—a Mexican telenovela. The dialogue is spectacularly expository.
“I wasn’t actually on the Eco Club field trip in Florida, Mom. I was looking for Natalie, my half-sister who you knew about but never told me existed, to see if she might be a bone marrow match for April, since I am not—and without one she might die!!!”
It’s fantastic. In its best moments it’s a little like if instead of Buffy being a vampire she had a blood cancer. Except this girl is no Sarah Michelle Gellar.
But I can’t stop watching.
Why would you do that? he asked.
For now I’m blaming my addiction on the fact that I’ve already watched every single British police procedural known to man, but all ironic campiness aside, there’s clearly something I’m getting out of the show. Someone who is writing it must have had cancer or done some actual research—they get enough things right. The best friend who freaks out and downloads a cancer symptom app on her phone (CancerAnswers!). Looking around a crowded room and wondering if there is anyone else who has cancer but just isn’t “showing” yet. The terror of a support group—intended to help—that offers you an in-the-flesh rendering of your worst nightmares of what’s to come.
The way no one really knows what to say to you. The dysfunction cancer highlights. The way it also gives your life a kind of beautiful shape or focus. The incredible kindness and generosity you feel and are witness to.
Anyway, I keep coming back to Montaigne’s phrase about being in suspicious country. These are strange times. My stupid hives are back. I was unreasonably excited about the arrival in the mail of this little doo-rag-like hat called a Chemo Beanie that is one of very few things that does not completely annoy my scalp. And after weeks of bouncing out of bed, wallpapering the mudroom, moving furniture, and landscaping the backyard (hey, steroids.), I am suddenly completely uninspired and exhausted. All I want to do is nap and find out if April is going to hook up with Leo when he wakes up from his coma.
I will see the Queen again on June 3rd. I’m supposed to ask her all my pre-mastectomy/is the chemo working freak-out questions then. At the last visit I asked the PA how I was supposed to emotionally prepare for being one-breasted for the foreseeable future.
Well, I think of you as an Amazon who removed her breast to better fight with her bow and arrow she tried out, clearly a little unprepared. You are a one-breasted warrior!
Come on–enough of that. We are not in a telenovela. Please just let me talk to the Queen.
So, the toothy/nosy one is finally asleep, as is the cheeky/cuddly one. And John just spontaneously brought me a bowl full of mini Nilla wafers sprayed with whipped cream, so I’m pretty sure I have to go now. Take that, April—you may be all uber-sexy-cute with your bald head and cancer chic weight loss, but not in all of Season One has Leo brought you a Nilla-wafer-based dessert concoction. Bawl on that for a while.