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Celluloid Chemotherapy: Top 12 Cancer Films

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Now that I have cancer, there is no end to my desire to watch movies about people dying from cancer. Call me a masochist! Actually, don't call me a masochist, that's gross and complicated.

I've always been a huge movie buff, so naturally my first response to my own cancer was to find ways to put my cancer in terms of movie cancer. Not all that surprising, and I'm sure many people do it. I will tell you though, after dealing with cancer for a few months now, I'm realizing that Hollywood may have -- are you ready for this? -- sensationalized what it's like to have cancer.

Also, Julia Roberts is potentially deadly.

I know I'm not supposed to define myself by this cancer thing, but really, when else are you going to get a guide to cancer movies by a cancer patient? (If you know of any, get at me -- we'll compare notes!)


Top 12 Movies That Put the "er..." in Cancer

1. Terms of Endearment


Before I even got cancer, Terms of Endearment was my favorite film. I'm not certain what role this played in me actually getting cancer. I hope very little.

By all accounts, this is the cancer film. It's about a mother and daughter who have a difficult relationship, but then come to terms (get it?) after the daughter is diagnosed with cancer. There's the famous Shirley MacLaine line/mama bear roar, screamed when her cancerous daughter is in cancer-pain, "GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT!"

As of yet, neither I nor anyone who has visited me has had to yell about a shot. But I could see this needing to happen in some instances. A couple of weeks ago I broke out with a case hives covering my entire body. (Line forms over there, boys.) A heavy dose of steroids was prescribed to bring them down. Maybe if I hadn't been raised in the Midwest -- a common side effect being an overuse of pleasantries and a fear of social confrontation -- I probably would have done a MacLaine roar at my doctor. Instead I went for the, "Heyyyy Doctor, sorry to bother you but... um, I could be wrong, but I might need those steroids real badly? I'm sure I do. It's probably nothing. Maybe. What do you think? I'm sorry to bother you. Can you give them to me?"

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Spot on if a Hollywood producer was your cancer counselor. Hollywood producers love a good yell.

2. 50/50


The moment I got diagnosed, so many people said, "Wow, this is just like in 50/50." I disagree with their comparison. I'd kill to have Joseph Gordon-Levitt's waistline.

But I get it, to most people cancer is cancer, and every situation is exactly the same. Like Gordon-Levitt's character, I too had to take a leave from my job, and had the help of my best friend. Unlike Gordon-Levitt, I didn't get paid millions of dollars to shave my head.

In fact, I shaved my head to stay one step ahead of the chemo, figuring I wouldn't be surprised when I actually lost my hair. Turns out, shaved head or not, losing your hair is still terrifying. Imagine waking up in the morning and seeing a bed full of hair. If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to molt like an Italian parrot, then chemo might be for you.

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Surprisingly accurate, even though there's no way I'd date Bryce Dallas Howard.

3. Patch Adams


Funny doctor makes people feel better through humor. I get how this might work for some (mainly children and idiots and Haley Joel Osment).

My doctor chooses to talk to me about my cancer for five minutes, and then comedy for the remaining 25 minutes of our visit. He's very professional. Healing through (talking about) humor!

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Accurate. Doctors are annoying.

4. Beaches


Actually not about cancer at all. Barbara Hershey dies of viral cardiomyopathy (a really bad heart muscle disease that eventually stops your heart). Just wanted to dispel this rumor once and for all. You're welcome.

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Accurate in the sense that I'd want Bette Midler to sing "Wind Beneath My Wings" to me anytime, anywhere, anyplace.

5. Dying Young


A man hires Julia Roberts to whisper to him while he recovers from chemotherapy. Then he runs naked in the winter through his yard. This is all I remember from this cancer film.

I can say right now that I can't afford to hire anybody to whisper to me, and with the body wide hair loss, I'm more susceptible to chills, so running naked is unlikely.

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: It won't be accurate until Julia Roberts comes and whispers to me.

6. Stepmom


Divorced mom gets cancer and once again Julia Roberts whispers. They should have just billed this as a sequel to Dying Young and called it Dying While Julia Roberts Moves in on Your Family and Whispers.

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Ehh, slim, except for the fact that Julia Roberts likely gives people cancer.

7. The Bucket List


Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman meet in the hospital and decide to accomplish their bucket list of things before they die (of cancer, of course).

I don't really have a bucket list, more like a "things I really should do before the unlikely event of my death" list. They include...

1) Erase my browser history.

2) Convince Anne Hathaway to be the surrogate for my child in order to insure financial stability for said child (not to mention incredible future talent potential).

3) Eat pizza everyday for the rest of my days.

4) Eat some of that pizza with Oprah.

5) Finally catch up on Friday Night Lights.

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Very high, in the sense that Jack Nicholson would probably put out a hit on me if I said otherwise.

8. Sweet November


Keanu Reeves meets Charlize Theron, they fall in love, she gets cancer, buckets of tears.

I wish I could fall in love right now. If the hemorrhoids weren't a sexy enough result of my medications, maybe the acne caused by the steroids would be a turn on? Or wait, so top that acne with going totally bald, leaving me with a pimply head. Sexy, huh?

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Low. Cancer is never -- and will never -- be sexy like Charlize.

9-12. Life as a House, Marvin's Room, The Family Stone, Pieces of April


Basically all of these films are about getting cancer and building a house, having a forced family reunion with Diane Keaton, and taking one last road trip as a family. I can tell you, based on the levels of nausea chemo has given me, I neither want to build, see people or travel.

CANCER ACCURACY RATING: Low, purely based on me never wanting to spend Thanksgiving with Katie Holmes like in Pieces of April. Dying of cancer Diane Keaton in Florida (Marvin's Room) or at Christmas (The Family Stone)? Well that's another story entirely.


Sure, it's hard for Hollywood to make a real depiction of what cancer is like. It's not pretty. You know what else isn't pretty? Julia Roberts characters somehow make cancer contagious. Yet, they keep green-lighting those projects.

So, (Ms. Roberts... ahem) how about a film about a young stand up comic who finds out he has cancer, goes through chemotherapy and lives! And maybe somewhere along the way he screams, "GIVE ME THE STEROIDS!" After Julia Roberts whispers it.