Reflections on ’50/50′ from someone who’s been there

“I have Cancer.”

I’ve said this many times, but never to try and pick up someone at a bar. It mostly comes up in conversation while I am out with friends, and I can say it is just as awkward as the movie “50/50” makes it look.

“50/50” was written by cancer survivor Will Reiser and based (loosely) on how he coped through humor and friendship. It is important to know that all medical information used in this film actually came out of the writer’s own life. He did make it more extreme than his own diagnosis, but in the end — no matter what kind of cancer you have — it is all equally as scary.

I have to give major points to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He plays Adam, an average healthy-looking 27-year-old guy who schedules a doctor’s appointment after having some back pain while running that turns out to be caused by a rare cancerous tumor. He must quickly start chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumor. JGL does such a great job showing how cancer treatment not only affects you physically, but mentally. As he went on his journey through the movie you could tell he was feeling the horrible effects of chemo. What was also great is how you could see his view of those around him changing and adopting to each situation. I loved when he was too tired to stay out all night with his friend Kyle. I have definitely been there.

I also appreciated how Adam learns he has cancer. The way the diagnoses scene cut in and out of focus, how the doctor seemed to be talking a lot of medical nonsense and not directly at Adam was very familiar. The way Adam was trying to make sense of what was going on, saying that he recycled so he clearly could not have cancer to me made the moment very realistic. He didn’t get emotional; it was just a sort of shock of disbelief, thinking only of the now. When I was diagnosed with 4th stage Adrenal Cancer, I was not worried about the long term — I just wanted to make sure I could finish my senior year of college.

Then comes the hardest part, in my opinion: Telling everyone else. This is something I did not want to do. What if I forgot to tell some one? What if people stopped talking to me? What will they say, do, react? The movie approaches this with the four different ways that people react to finding out you have cancer.

There are the people who withdraw, people who smother, people who look out for you and people who honestly just don’t know what to do. The way Adam approaches people in his life about his cancer fits each of their personalities. How they cope with it after they are told gave me one of those light-bulb moment ideas. The hospital is the friendship test in this movie.

I know people don’t like hospitals, but this idea comes after I connected some of my own experiences. I have been hospitalized about four times since I was diagnosed three years ago. I have done IV chemotherapy on schedules that would have me sitting there for five hours a day every other week to my current chemo where I go three times a week for two hours once every month. I clearly spend more time sitting in a plastic blue chair then other activities. I always have gone to chemo or the hospital with someone. I have friends and family who visit, people who send cards, call, or leave Facebook messages a week later. This movie helped me realize that those who are able to come to physically visit realize that I am more than my diagnosis. This does not mean I am going to de-friend everyone who does not visit me, but it helps me to know where people are when it comes to dealing with cancer or illness in general.

A moment that really shook me was when Adam realizes what having cancer can actually mean. This was a heart-wrenching moment. It was one I have had many times and comes up often from experiences extremely similar to Adam’s. (If you have yet to see the movie, you should look away for a second here). One of the men who Adam has chemotherapy with passes away, leaving an empty chair that day during treatment. This is intensified by the fact that Adam has a scan coming up. “Scan Anxiety” is the worst and causes really high tension. You see this as Adam tries to get a hold of Kyle (Seth Rogen) to take him to the doctor to find out what is next, only to get his voicemail and end up going to the doctor with his mother, making him even more on edge.

“50/50” brought a young adult’s cancer experience full circle. It showed the reality of how hard it can be to loose those closest to you. It showed how you become reliant on your family and friends for positive support. Most importantly, it really highlighted what it is like to have cancer and what that feels like. Yes everyone’s cancer treatment and experience is completely different, but this movie did an amazing job of capturing moments that are similar to most real-life cancer stories.

I have been living with cancer for three years now. I have gone through surgeries, radiation, oral chemo, and IV chemo. I get CT scans every 2-3 months. The cancer has spread to my liver, my lungs, and my abdomen. My odds for living I don’t think about, nor should they be something I ever have to worry about. I just keep living life like Adam does, by making light of the serious situations and leaning on others for support. This is why I give “50/50” 4/5 awkward pats on the shoulder.


Heather Kornick
3-year Cancer Survivor, life long movie watcher, and preschool teacher


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