July 5, 2014

Discussion ~ Why Read a Book About Two Teens with Cancer? #TFIOS

On a Personal Note...

I wrote a movie review for The Fault in Our Stars a couple weeks ago. If you'd like to read it, please click here. I doubt I'll end up writing a book review - there are tons, so it already has a lot of exposure.

But I did want to write about the book on a personal level, which I didn't think would be too relevant or interesting in a traditional book review. 

For those asking why anyone would want to see a sad movie or read a sad book about two teens with cancer, I totally get what you're saying. I couldn't possibly read book after book with subject matter this heavy; I need escapism, too. A ton of the fiction I read are with situations that are completely made up and could never happen (well, hopefully could never happen 0.0). But I also like reading about serious subjects from time to time. It's cathartic. 

For me, it's easy to explain why I love this book so much. The characters are lovable, the dialogue is sharply witty, and I suppose also because I know what it's like to live with someone who has cancer and wanted to see from the other perspective. From The Fault in Our Stars, I learned some things about my grief I didn't know before. 

When I was eleven, my grandpa died from brain cancer, and I was fourteen when my mom died from the same type of brain cancer. My mom was diagnosed after my grandpa had already died. Once they were diagnosed, there was basically no hope they'd survive - the tumors had intricately wrapped themselves around blood vessels to where they were impossible to remove completely without severing one of those blood vessels, causing instant death. 

They both lived with cancer for over a year until they died. It was a roller coaster for my family, living through this disease twice. Sometimes I feel like I'm sleepwalking through life instead of actually living. I don't get the point of why they suffered. Was it just random? Why would the universe think one family should have to go through so much sickness and death? 

My anger and bitterness comes from more than losing both of them - it was seeing them suffer for so long, and there was nothing we could do about it. I remember wanting to run away from home because I couldn't breathe - the disease was suffocating me. I was thirteen at the time. 

There were moments when they wanted to tell us something badly but couldn't remember the words to express themselves, and their frustration was downright palpable. There was a night when my mom had at least three seizures in a row, and I thought for sure she was going to die that night. I was so angry when the ER sent us home, telling us there wasn't anything they could do except to adjust her dilantin levels (the medicine she took to prevent seizures). 

I learned from reading The Fault in Our Stars that it's not only possible but very likely my mom thought of herself as a grenade. That she was afraid of leaving us alone in the aftermath of her death. I know she thought about what would happen to me and my sister without having her anymore because she asked our grandma to help Dad look after us. 

And I bet she probably was worried about leaving Dad alone to raise two teenage girls - not worried about his ability to do it but feeling bad she would be gone soon without any choice in the matter. This wasn't what they had planned when they fell in love, got married, and had me and my sister. Yet they had to deal with it anyway because they were forced to.   

This book gave me hope, that if this girl with cancer can find a way to live, to truly LIVE and not just sleepwalk through life, then maybe I can, too. I think that's what I needed the most - to see that even in the most dire of situations, there can be a way through the darkness, and you don't have to go alone. 


  1. You know I'm a wuss about heavy books, but I want to read this one and watch the movie. I'm not sure what my walkaway lesson will be. Sometimes I lose all my air thinking about something happening to me because what will happen to the boys?

    "I think that's what I needed the most - to see that even in the most dire of situations, there can be a way through the darkness, and you don't have to go alone." You definitely don't have to go it alone, Jennifer! It's hard for me to think that way too. I'm a hide away in a dark corner until I can manage the world again kind of girl.

    1. I think I just happened to take away something from this book but don't think there has to be a lesson to take necessarily. I think about things like that, too, especially the closer I get to the age my mom was diagnosed. I can't help it. She was only 38 when we found out about the brain tumors. That's five years older than I am now. I think she had to have worried about me and my sister but also knew we'd be taken care of. God forbid something happened to you, I think your boys would be taken care of, too.

      It feels lonely here, but that's the depression talking. Intellectually, I know I'm not alone, but I sometimes almost like being miserable. It's what I know and am comfortable with. I feel like I'd lose my connection to her if I wasn't depressed. I don't think I have much choice in the matter. I can't will it away. It's just there.

  2. Whew, that was deep. I hate that your family went through this. I can't even imagine. Honestly, there are no words that I can offer. I am glad that you found some solace and understanding though while reading the book. I am one of those that said they couldn't read it because of how sad it is. I would break down so much and I just can't put myself through that. Anything that has to do with kids hurting too, not just people hurting, but kids makes it 10x worse.

    1. I was afraid to read it to be honest. And even more afraid to see the movie. I was terrified to see it actually, even more terrified and nervous than if I had been going to see a horror movie. We took an entire box of tissues, and none of us cried. Then I felt weird about not crying. I can't imagine being a kid with cancer and knowing it will one day kill me. That's one of the hardest parts when my mom and grandpa were diagnosed with terminal cancer - not knowing when they'd die. I'm not sure, but I think it's possible I have PTSD from the trauma of watching her slowly die. I never knew when it was going to happen, and the thought of her dying alone terrified me. I wanted to be there when it happened, and I was. She died in her hospital bed in our living room. Her wish was to die at home, and we kept her at home. Hospice workers were so great. They gave my dad and us respite when we needed it, and they were caring and professional. I have great love for the hospice program.

      And when it comes to kids, it's definitely 10x worse.

  3. *sniff* There's no way to make sense of suffering, in my opinion, Jennifer. And I'm so sorry you and your family had to live with watching 2 people you loved suffer like they did. But I'm so glad that TFiOS gave you a different perspective - one you needed. And I'm thrilled it gave you HOPE. Sometimes hope is the only thing to get you by in life. And you are NOT alone. Thanks for sharing a piece of yourself. <3

    1. I wish I could make sense of it. I wish someone could tell me why this happened, but then again, I probably wouldn't like the answer no matter what it was. I was in therapy when I was a teenager, and one of the treatment things I did was to take everything that happened and look at it from an adult perspective. Yes, if it wasn't for hope, I wouldn't have made it this long. Thanks so much for your kind words, Brandee! xx


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