Friday, November 16, 2012

Parenthood - the TV show

One of my favorite TV shows is the family drama Parenthood.  I love the characters.  The actors in the show are fantastic, and I find the story arcs interesting. (Bravo, writers.)   If I could join any fake family, I think I'd choose that one, and for the record,  I, like Sarah, also would really find it hard to choose between Jason Ritter and Ray Romano. (I'd have to pick Ray because I had a crush on Jason's father back in the 80s and that would just be too weird.)

When I found out they were going to do a story line where one of the women gets breast cancer, my heart sank.  I live breast cancer every day, and don't really want to see it in my entertainment, much less one of my favorite shows.   TV is one way I escape my reality.

Although, if one of the guys from the Deadliest Catch got it, I might feel differently.  Can't you just see Captain Keith deal with a mastectomy?

The entertainment industry has an atrocious record for truth-telling when it comes to cancer treatment.  On TV and in the movies, all chemo patients puke, they all look continually miserable, they lose their hair but not their lashes or brows, they never have mastectomies,  they get huge circles under their eyes, get skinny,  and generally look very bad.

The exception was Samantha in Sex and the City, where reality was bent too far towards the other end of the bell curve - she wore a different fabulous wig to every party and had great sex with a hot young stud while on chemo.

Both can happen - miserable puking or hot young sex -  but the truth for nearly everybody lies somewhere in the middle.

Nobody on TV demonstrates the real side effects that make us miserable, like constipation and a constantly runny nose. And, that's a shame because all the Kleenex and Miralax I use would make for fantastic product placement.

I understand that having cancer would not be an interesting or dramatic story without some suffering, and Hollywood needs that conflict and they need to show it visibly.  Having somebody look okay but sleep for 18 hours a day would not for interesting TV make - I get it.  But, one of the reasons the over-dramatization of nausea and vomiting and misery bothers me is because I have been going to the infusion room for 3 years, and I see so many new people who are terrified because of what they've seen on TV.  That chemo makes you puke and miserable is now in our collective zeitgeist and it's hard to change it.    Despite what their doctors and nurses tell them - that the premeds are likely to handle their nausea, that they will be able to function and even work,  most people don't believe it.  When they hear it from me, they feel better because they know I've been there, and I've talked more than one newbie down off the ledge in my day.  I just wish they weren't on that ledge to begin with.

Back to Parenthood:  I know that Maura Tierney was supposed to be on the show and had to back out because she was diagnosed with breast cancer - the same kind I have, HER2+.  She has been public about the fact that chemo is not portrayed realistically on TV.    So, I had hopes the people involved in that show knew her and had some sort of investment in showing the truth, or at least, the common truth,  which is that chemo is hard but it's worse to think about then do.  Most go to work, manage their family obligations,  and incorporate going to chemo into their lives.

Chemo (at least, early on)  is really an anti-climax, although tell that to Samantha.

Last week's Parenthood was pretty good.  They did touch on something all of us experience - people wanting to give us health advice.  I can't tell you how many times people have told me what to eat, or what supplement to take.  They showed kind people bringing food, which is also true for most of us (or I hope it is).   I never had six chickens in my fridge but I've been saved with meals more than once.

Then, they exposed difficult family relationships, which don't get better in a health crisis.  Christina's mother has been absent and uncaring, and once again, would not come when her daughter is facing this very scary time in her life, something which hit close to home for me.  Christina's quote was, "I want my mom, my own mom, to consider me important enough to get on a plane and come see me."  I felt the same, but the difference for me was I never expected it so was not disappointed when it never happened.  Christina is still hoping that the seriousness of her disease will fix a broken relationship.   If the story stays true to reality, she will learn that cancer does not make people love you, and it does not change them into being caring if they were not to begin with.  She will find that certain people she thought loved her will just disappear - but she will also learn to appreciate the people she does have, the ones who provide support.  She will learn they are her true family.

She also says something we all feel,  "I sometimes wish that things were back to normal, and I wish I could curl up into a ball and cry forever, but I can't."

So, with those moments, with Christina speaking a real truth, with the reactions of people around her reflecting what actually happens,  I was hopeful that as this story arc plays out, they would get most of it right.

Then I saw this scene:

And, I realized how exactly right he was and how honest this show is.

I mean, look at me now:


I am a bit squeamish to continue watching, and "scenes from next week" seem to show her puking and looking bad, doing the entire cliche chemo bit.  But the show is good so I will stick with it.  Writers, if you come across this post,  feel free to do me a favor and end this part of your story by the season finale.  While those with breast cancer know it never truly ends, I will forgive a small untruth - just once.


  1. I don't watch the show... and now, I feel like I have to go back and watch it so I can jump on YOUR bandwagon. I can always count on you to tell the truth. FYI... LOVE the ghost get up.... We cancelled Halloween in NY this year. I missed the costumes, along with any contact to the outside world for almost 2 weeks... Missed you... Love this...


    1. I hope you guys have recovered from Sandy fully by now. That was scary!

  2. Ann, I don't watch the show either, but I love, love, love what you wrote about how cancer changes relationships:

    "If the story stays true to reality, she will learn that cancer does not make people love you, and it does not change them into being caring if they were not to begin with. She will find that certain people she thought loved her will just disappear - but she will also learn to appreciate the people she does have, the ones who provide support. She will learn they are her true family."

    You really hit the nail on the head here. I have been experiencing this but have been unable to articulate it as well as you have here.

    Thank you... for your candor, your insight and the gift of this blog!

  3. I dont watch it either but maybe I will now. Hollywood does not handle cancer well. They don't get it.

  4. I've been watching the show since the cancer story was introduced. A friend told me about it and when I learned that the character had Her2+, like I did, it peaked my curiosity. I will be very interested in how they handle the chemo side effects.

    Unlike you, and apparently the "most", though I only puked once in my 6 months on chemo, I FELT like puking nearly every minute every day and none of the anti-nausea meds worked for me.I spent about 5 of those 6 months laying on my couch unable to even walk my dog or cook for my family or clean my house. I lost all energy for everything, and I do mean Samantha-Everything! Even when it was over, I was breast-less and bald and had no interest. Throw in a little acne, fingernails peeling off their nail beds and oozing puss, and mouth sores and MRSA skin infections, and well, I hope they portray a little bit of the hell it truly is and was for me.

    One TV character cannot possibly convey the reality of thousands of very different women but we all try to find a character we can identify with. We want to feel supported in our own struggle. That makes me wonder if they will reveal the truth that surrounds some Her2+ cancers final outcomes or if Christina will outsmart cancer for the rest of her life?! That will take a few years to find out and maybe the producers are learning as they go on this one.

    I think you'd be an excellent consultant for their show, Ann! And I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they'd ask you! You tell it like it is and that is why we all love you so!

    1. Christina is a main character and I don't see them killing her off. Although, for some of us, like me, it takes a few years to get sick and die so they *could* do that storyline - I just think they won't. It is too morbid for TV. But if they need a consultant, I'm there. :)

      I am sorry you had such a rough time with your chemo. In all my years, I've never met anybody who actually had it bad like you did - with one exception - a woman who is not on chemo! She is young and is treated with hormonals only but she is so sick and nothing helps her. I feel bad for her as she has three little kids and is just a sweet person. In my experience, she is not the norm though and all of us in the chemo room feel so sad for her, that she's young and has to go through all that and most of us feel pretty good. She's Stage III but goes in as often as I do because of the nausea - they have to give her fluids. So, of course, it does happen as you and she can testify to, but I do think due to the new medications it's rare now. Before the days of Zofran, everybody suffered but now it's rarer. It happens but not to most.

      Maybe it means the chemo works better, who knows? I never have had a problem and here I am, Stage IV. You were really sick so maybe it worked better on you and you won't relapse. One can hope, anyway (although I don't think it really works that way).

      Hope those days are a memory for you now. *hugs*

  5. I have watched the show since it started. I admire the show's writers for finding humor, showing some real moments (like denial, crying, avoidance, anger). I laughed when the clingy neighbor starts crying & wants her to fix them a cup of tea). I am interested in how realistic the story line will be, but plan to watch, even if I cry a little.

    1. Yeah, the tea was funny and it illustrated a bit how we end up caring and comforting those around us. I think they will get the emotional stuff right, if not the physical.

  6. I too have watched this show since the beginning and, like you, I was a bit hesitant to embrace the October bandwagon story of breast cancer in one of the characters. I like tv to escape from reality also and wasn't sure I wanted to be reminded of reality on one of "my" shows. Anyway...I read your post and when I got down to the ghose photo...just wanted to tell you...Priceless!! You are sooo funny! :)
    OK...back to lurk mode for me...

    1. Thanks! I wondered if anybody even got it. :) Brand new sheets so I had to use black paper and tape - I was not marking them up for this blog, lol. :)

  7. While on chemo, I only had a couple of times where I was sick to my stomach. They managed that side effect quite well with drugs. That said, I can not imagine working through chemo. I needed so much more sleep and had many other side effects that would have made it especially awful to be anywhere but home. At one point the skin on my face peeled off ... a free chemical peel is what I called it ... and my toe and fingernails were so fragile and I lost a lot of feeling in my fingers. At one point I could hardly ties my shoes or do up buttons. And my brain kind of went to mush for a while, too. To have had to work through all of the trouble with weeping eyes and foreign tastebuds would have been such additional hell. Paining on eyebrows, wearing wigs all day, no eyelashes ... oh, Lord. Working would have been real misery upon misery for me.

    Regarding nausea I know some women who really struggled with it and what comes (up) with it. It was harder for them to get theirs under control with medications. Individual experiences with chemo can vary so much it seems.

    While I wish they didn't ALWAYS show chemo patients looking ghostly and throwing up, I would hope, too, that they didn't show them looking all elegant and capable. It's not very glamorous going through chemo even if we're able to fake it from time to time.

  8. I'm not a medical doctor myself, but I work with lots of medical oncologists. I've heard several of them mention that new patients often freak out when they start chemo and find that they're NOT throwing up constantly, because they think that means it's not working, and they have to be reassured that "it's not like in the movies".

    (From what I understand there isn't actually any correlation between the severity of the side-effects and the effectiveness of the chemo, but like I said, I'm not a medical doctor...)


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