Two Cancer Stories Light up the Screens   

While the premiere of The Story of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies is still a year away, two stories about young people with cancer are smash hits this summer. In the movie The Fault in Our Stars—which has set box-office records for a romantic comedy—16 year-old Hazel, who has late stage thyroid cancer, falls in love with Gus, also a teen, who has osteosarcoma. Meanwhile, in the ABC Family television series Chasing Life, 24-year old April embarks on a new career and a new love when she learns that she has leukemia.

Fault in Our Stars InLineIn interviews, blog posts and other social media, teens and young adults with cancer—who make up a small fraction of the people who are diagnosed with cancer each year—have cheered the film and series, while critiquing some specific details, such as how much hair Hazel has despite her rounds of chemotherapy.
“I’m glad The Fault in Our Stars is a success,” wrote twenty-something cancer survivor Emily Krauser, on the website xoJane, “I want to believe that the world will start to understand what it’s like to be facing death while still at the beginning of your adult life.”

The Fault in Our Stars is an adaption of the novel by the same name. In the novel, author John Green credits Siddhartha Mukherjee and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer for helping to inform his own writing on the subject of young adults facing cancer. Shortly after publication in 2012, Green’s novel became a New York Times #1 bestseller, and the movie recently premiered #1 at box-offices nationwide.

On the small screen, the social media team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) has been live tweeting to big audiences during Chasing Life since the show began. “A cancer diagnosis and first big professional break in the same week #ChasingLife. Sadly, this is the reality for many young adults w/ cancer,” was widely retweeted during the show’s first episode.

Chasing Life InLine“One of the ways we identify the needs of patients and their families is by listening to their perspectives, and that is just what we did during Chasing Life,” says Debby Robertson, Director of Social Media at CTCA. “What we found is that individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer felt the show offered an accurate depiction of their experiences and really related to the main character.”

Robertson said her team was so happy to see a television show addressing the unique experiences of the young adult cancer community “because it affords them an opportunity to connect and support one another as well as raise awareness about their unique struggles when battling cancer.”

Many young patients who have weighed-in on the book and movie say the story lines have been so powerful for them because they find they can relate to Hazel, Gus and April just at the time when they’re finding it hard to relate to their friends. “It’s difficult to talk about [it] with my friends. They don’t know what you’re going through, how you’re feeling, the emotions you’re having.  Cancer is one of the hardest things you have to go through and nobody else in my high school had ever had it,” said Allison Cisz who was diagnosed with brain cancer during her senior year of high school and interviewed about the film by a writer for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.

The film and series, while conceived as entertainment, offer information for people without cancer, but offer something even more powerful for the young adults battling cancer, says Giuseppe Del Priore, MD, MPH,  National Director of Gynecologic Oncology at CTCA. “Seeing the world unravel through a heroic victim willing to share his or her story, maybe, just maybe, can give an edge.” By shining a spotlight on cancer among young adults, The Fault in Our Stars and Chasing Life are helping to foster an important public conversation about cancer while providing support and hope to young adults battling the disease.

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox and ABC Family.

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