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I thought my sensitivity to breast cancer scenarios on television shows had gotten stronger, but it hasn’t.
Last night, I was watching a TV series called “Parenthood.” I know, I’m behind the times. The series came out in 2010, but I wasn’t aware of it. The show is about a modern-day dysfunctional family, and I enjoyed binge-watching it until last night.
I was in season 4 and on episode 3. Kristina Braverman, played by actress Monica Potter, plays a mother of 3. She is shown going in for a routine mammogram several months after giving birth to her little girl. The camera pans in on Kristina just as one shoulder of her hospital gown drops, and the mammogram tech guides her into the mammography machine. Immediately, I felt tense. It felt like I was reliving my own experience.
The technician’s voice instructs Kristina to move closer pressing her breast into the machine and tells her she’ll feel a slight pressure. I screamed out, “Slight?! You’ve got to be kidding! It hurts!” My husband looked at me as soon as I realized I’d voiced my thoughts aloud. I turned to him and said, “Well, it does. It hurts an awful lot.”
We continued watching the show and without recanting the entire episode, I’ll give a short synopsis: Kristina finds out she has a mass in her left breast, she breaks the news to her husband, waits for a couple of hours to see a breast surgeon who is brusque and insensitive, and the story continues.
The episode was very realistic and heart-wrenching. There were several scenes I thought were played very well including Kristina in a waiting room as she waits for her doctor. She’s sitting with many other women most of whom have turbans or headwraps on their heads. She and her husband waited for a couple of hours. Her husband, Adam, is getting aggravated and impatient while poor Kristina is upset and nervous. A woman, sitting behind Kristina and Adam, overhears a conversation they’re having and turns to face Kristina. She introduces herself and asks Kristina if this is her first visit. Kristina wonders how the woman knew it was indeed her first visit and the woman explains it’s because of Kristina’s head full of hair. At that moment, Kristina realizes she’s one of them — one of the statistics — one of the 1 in 8 who’ll be diagnosed with cancer each year.
The woman tries to be kind and helpful offering Kristina her business card as she tells her to give her a call if she has any questions. Kristina takes the card and looks dumbfounded as the woman is immediately called into her appointment.
It pained me to watch that episode. Everything the actress was portraying on screen was so familiar. Though I thought I’d moved past my sensitivity to seeing breast cancer reenacted on television or in movies, I realized I still experienced the vulnerability that came along with the disease.
I understand breast cancer scenarios need to be played realistically. Shows like this can help give onlookers a glimpse into the world of cancer; but those who’ve been through a true-life breast cancer experience are all too familiar with the silent suffering and humiliation that accompanies it.
READ MORE: Lights, Camera, Cancer: A Look at How the Disease Is Portrayed in the Media
The television show helped me realize one thing I hadn’t thought of before. When I was told I had breast cancer, it seemed so unreal. It felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was in the room with the oncologist listening to the words he was saying but not believing they were being said about me. It was almost as if I were viewing a scene from a television drama.
The episode title, “Everything Is Not OK,” summed it up well. After watching the show, I found myself in a melancholy mood. Though it’s been almost nine years since my initial diagnosis, scenes like the ones portrayed in this episode could immediately transport me back in time and make me feel the way I did back then. I didn’t like feeling that way again.
Yesterday, I had biopsies done on growths found in my stomach. I’ll admit I’m worried. I don’t know how I’d react if I had to face hearing those three words, “You have cancer,” again. I don’t know if anyone ever fully recovers from hearing them. Those words change a person’s life in an instant. I am hopeful I will get good news from my radiology reports. While I know there’s no guarantee I won’t ever hear those terrible words again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t.
I’m not looking forward to watching the remaining episodes of the show, but I know I will. I’m sure, as the storyline behind Ms. Potter’s character, Kristina, progresses the trauma around her cancer will increase and ultimately may lead to her death.
Cancer is hard, both in real life and on screen. I’m just thankful many directors take the time to portray cancer stories realistically as opposed to grandiose, overdramatized scenes that would only garner high viewership.
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