CPBC: The Fault in Our Stars

Confession: I’m obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. After I watched the movie, I listened to the audiobook. And then I bought the book. Now I have the movie. And yeah, I didn’t just listen, buy, and possess. I may have entire portions of this story memorized. (Just nowhere near as obsessed as Hazel is with An Imperial Afflication. So I suppose it could be a lot worse.)

Anyways, I put together a treasury of #tfios interpretations in art form. I have a really hard time with visuals. (Explains why I found audiobooks such a resource.) But it’s cool to see how other people have interpreted this story.

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But there are definitely a few things that have really helped me. First, the idea that persons who are chronically ill can love and have as deep psychological needs as other “normal” people. Hazel has a long soliloquy about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how according to his hierarchy, people are struggling to survive cannot think about art or the meaning of life, etc. But it’s simply not true. In fact, it seems that the fight for life makes those things even more important.

Second, the priest comforts Gus’ friends and family at his funeral by saying that in heaven, Gus is made whole, a conclusion that Hazel scoffs at. At first, I wasn’t sure what Green was getting at. Isn’t part of the next life about being freed from the body of this humiliation??

I was already starting to get [frustrated] at the minister when he said, “In heaven, Augustus will finally be healed and whole,” implying that he had been less whole than other people due to his leglessness, and I kind of could not repress my sigh of disgust.”

And I think that she does have a point here. Somehow, being sick makes you a less valid human in the eyes of some and it’s simply not true. This matches the first point.

Thirdly, the way in which John Green has Hazel defend Monica and her inability to deal with Isaac’s illness is unique and inherently helpful, particularly in light of the first two points. Even though people should treat those with chronic or terminal illnesses like real human beings, a lot times they don’t simply because they can’t. While that may be a weakness or feel unfair, if we are to cut ourselves slack and realize that we can’t be and do everything that we want to, then we also owe it to the rest of mankind to allow them to be true to their own capacity. Because nothing is worse than people pretending like they can do or be something that they really can’t (or don’t.)

Fourthly, I like the way Green deals with “encouragements”. Hazel has a really hard time with a lot of the standard lexicon of words to encourage the sick, but when Gus reveals the extent of his illness, she winds up giving him the whole litany of them. Why? Because the human understanding is often inadequate of dealing with the harsh reality of illness & death.

“You get to battle cancer,” I said. “That is your battle. And you’ll keep fighting,” I told him. I hated it when people tried to build me up to prepare for battle, but I did it to him, anyway. “You’ll… you’ll… live your best life today. This is your war now.” I despised myself for the cheesy sentiment, but what else did I have?

Even with the intimate and personal experience of illness, it can be difficult to relate or to know what to say. I love that Green has Hazel rely on words from support group: “Living our best life today” because it shows that support group really did help her through the most difficult times even though she would be the last one to ever admit it. And in the end, this reinforces point #3. Facing illness is really hard, and sometimes we do want to run away even if we know we shouldn’t.

And lastly, grief and illness doesn’t really change who you are. I love the way in which Green deals with this throughout the book. He talks about Gus’ handsomeness and thoughtfulness, which his sisters admires. He describes Isaac’s desperate need for love and Gus’ craving for the status of hero. He shows van Houten’s miserable, selfish ways before and after his daughter’s fight with cancer.

I was insufferable long before we lost her. Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.

I love this concept because I think we make illness too much a focus of our existence or our life story. But really, as Gus points out, it’s important to focus on you and not your “cancer” story (or whatever). Because who you are is only made more manifest by trouble and trials. Not the other way around.


P.S. Yes, I’m also reading This Light Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Earl, a book based on the writings of a young woman who inspired and encouraged John Green and to whom his book is dedicated.

CPBC: The Fault in Our Stars

Molly and I snuck out tonight and saw a movie. I’d been hoping to do something really grand for the 4th like go to a waterpark or visit some friends. But my hip is majorly hurting me, it was supposed to be storming, and my friends are (mostly) out of town. So a movie it was.

We saw The Fault in Our Stars based on the novel by John Green. It was beautiful, very heartfelt with really amazing acting.

The premise goes something like this: a teenage girl has been diagnosed with terminal cancer… in her lungs which makes it difficult to breathe. She’s convinced that the only point to life is to make her parents happy because if she dies, the meaning of their life will die with her. Her mom forces her to go to a cancer support group meeting week after week where she meets this teenage boy. She falls for him because he’s handsome and smart and kind of dangerous (and oh he also has cancer but he’s in remission.) The story follows them as they fall in love and are destined to live happily ever after until cancer gets in the way of destiny. Something like that.

I like movies about characters struggling with illness because it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. The Fault in Our Stars has some amazing jokes about being a chronic patient that are really relatable, like how people always tell you that you are brave for living with illness (is living with an illness a choice?) and you’re strong for saving that this pain is only 9 out of 10 (when all you’re thinking is how is pain quantifiable? and there has to be something worse than this even though you really wish there wasn’t.) The problem is that they tend to have cheesy endings. And usually someone ends up dead. Like A Walk to Remember or The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. And it’s all about survivor guilt and the legacy that people leave when they succumb to illness. Or Dear John or The Vow where the premise seems to be about letting go of the past you can’t change and holding on to the hope of the future. They make for great movies but rather cheesy realities. Even though some of them are based on the lives of real people.

TThe Fault in Our Stars has its fair share of movie stereotypes. But it has sufficient redeeming moments to make it worth watching.

  • Like the moment when Hazel confronts her parents about their motivation behind her positive prognosis. It turns into a conversation about how her mom is going to continue to live a purposeful life even after she dies.
  • Or when Hazel tells her dad that it’s not fair to Gus to be his girlfriend, and her dad tells her that it’s not fair to be her parents either and that they’re thinking of abandoning her on the sidewalk outside an orphanage and just walking away so they can live the life that they were supposed to live. For reals. Not even kidding.
  • Or what it means when two (or three) broken people support each other and lean on each other and face their fears together.
  • Or what happens (spoiler alert) when someone dies, and it’s not the person that was “supposed” to die. What does it mean to walk in the shadow of death? How does a dying person survive?
  • Why is it that the simple platitudes that are all around us never seem to bring us any comfort? At “that person’s” funeral, Hazel makes a comment that funerals are really to comfort the living, not to speak to the dead. And sometimes that means ignoring the truth and sugarcoating the past because it’s easier to swallow.

Oh, and the best part, egging the car!! Because I’ve definitely like shattering something. (But the stupid chronic fatigue syndrome keeps me from ever actually getting out and being destructive.) And because the last I thought of when he said, Do you have $5? was that that they were going to egg a car. Plus the line: Between us, we have five legs, four eyes, two and a half pairs of working lungs, and two dozen eggs. So I would suggest you get out of the way.

There were definitely parts of the movie I didn’t understand. And parts of the movie that I would have left out. But I could feel that the movie (or the storyline at least) was written by someone who had passed through the loss that comes with chronic illness and comes before death. And now that I think about it, it makes sense. John and Hank Green are a working example of two brothers supporting each other, making up for each other’s deficiencies, and supporting each other’s curiosities. Hank’s been very frank about his long journey with Crohn’s disease and the way in which society affects us and we them. It’s lovely to see John’s perspective on the issue, particularly in the form of entertainment.

I might just have to start reading the book! Molly, I sense a visit to the library or the bookstore in the very near future.


CPBC: Patient by Patient by Emily Transue

First review for Chronic Patient Book Club is finally here. ::drumroll::

Emily R. Transue, M.D. Patient by Patient: Lessons in Love, Loss, Hope, and Healing from a Doctor’s Perspective. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008. R154.T673 A3 2008. 610.69’6092

Emily Transue documents her first years as a doctor of internal medicine, living in Seattle and flying back frequently to visit her aging grandparents in New Jersey. She’s honest about the difficulties she faces with the business of being a doctor (coding is a constant nightmare) and the troubles she faces as a daughter and a granddaughter. Her book gives a window into the dual world of a maturing doctor and a maturing adult, considering marriage, the needs of people she barely knows, and the finality of death.

Her first chapter includes that insight we only gain in retrospect:

I had finished the hard years of residency, the hundred-hour weeks and thirty-six hour shifts, the drama of the hospital and the emergency room. I had seen a lot of people die or nearly die in those years, and I thought I knew plenty about grief and loss and healing. I little imagined how much more and how differently I would learn in the coming years. Much of this would come from the patients I would care for, not just in the episodic crises of the hospital but in the slower, richer arc of sickness and health that a primary care doctor sees. In parallel, my first years in practice would be tumultuous ones for the people in the world I loved most, and I would see more than I ever had of medicine from the other side. (5)

It’s interesting as a chronic patient to read something from a physician’s perspective. I always hope to know a little bit more about how doctors think so that I can plan the appropriate strategy for our encounters. But Transue does much more than that. She shows us that doctors know that patients are vulnerable; for a doctor to help, to sympathize, requires as much that the patient come out from behind their hiding place as for a doctor to be willing to listen. For example, she recounts the story of Ellie, an older woman recently widowed, crying and saying, “I just want to die.” Dr. Transue wonders how she’s supposed to treat grief and decides that talking could be as much a comfort as any. When she leaves, she asks that question that so many of us think is empty: “Is there anything else I can do for you?” Ellie’s response impressed me. She asked for a watch because she never knew what time it was. And that became an opening for so much more.

There’s the story that she tells about the Catholic grandmother who insisted about learning all about Transue’s boyfriend and made her promise that they would wait at least another three years before they got married. And another one about some guys who were sharing an id and the confusion that created when one of them turned out to have tuberculosis. Mostly, it’s a different perspective, and it’s helpful to be able to laugh a little bit about the ridiculousness that comes along with any profession, those things that fall by the wayside while we’re focused on the life-threatening stuff.

Overall: Not a profound book, but very true-to-life and funny. Gives a genuine glimpse into a young woman’s life, her journeys as a primary care physician, a daughter, a granddaughter, and a girlfriend.

Chronic Patient Book Club announcement

photograph on Flickr by Leo Reynolds
Bookstack by Fred Watson
I’ve decided to mark a new season in my life by forming the “Chronic Patient Book Club”. I’ve demonstrated (at least to the ravenous lion, et al) that I’m perfectly capable of reading 50 books in one semester. That means, I should be perfectly capable of reading 50 books on or about being a chronic patient within a year.

I learn primarily through reading (in case you haven’t figured that out.) I’ve read a lot of books about living with a chronic condition, being a physician/nurse/caretaker for a chronic sufferer, and how to be a friend to those in need. Some of them are good, some of them are very narrow; some of them are interesting, some of them are as thick as molasses. This is an opportunity for me to continue to hone by book reviewing skills while also staying accountable and sharing what I learn with you.

I know that many people don’t have the time or energy to read 50 books in one year, let alone find them all. But the fact of the matter is that I’m building quite a collection. And I have opinions on most of them.

So I’m starting the “Chronic Patient Book Club”. Every week, I’ll read a book, and on Thursday, I’ll post a review of it on my blog. I’ll give you a summary of the topics covered in the books, who wrote the book, what I learned from the book, and what audience I think this book makes sense for. Hopefully, I’ll learn a lot more about living with a chronic condition and how to help my friends to help me to live well with it. At the same time, I hope that you’ll find it beneficial at least as an armchair participant.

If you have suggestions of books that you think I ought to read or ought to be on the lookout for, I’ve created a form for you to suggest books. Keep in mind that you can always contact me at abigail.cashelle :at: gmail.com as well.

Must get reading,

P.S. I hope to have a list of anticipated books up soon. Keep your eyes open for that!