Television Helps Me Cope with Chemotherapy

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • When I was undergoing chemotherapy, and feeling too weak and dispirited to move, I used to lie on the couch and watch ER and other medical dramas. I took solace from the extreme medical crises depicted on the small screen--such as a man with a stake impaled through his chest, or the one-pound, premature baby born to a homeless, crack-addicted teen. I liked how the shows were resolved, usually happily, within the hour. Even though I knew the shows were fictional, and greatly exaggerated for dramatic effect, other people’s medical catastrophes made me feel better about my own chances for survival.
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    It is the same impulse that often draws me to memoirs and novels about people who have faced cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Call me a rubber-necker, but I like to examine the wreckage of other people’s lives, and see how they managed to go on after their struggle. Unconsciously, I guess, I’m still working out these issues.

    On that note, I highly recommend a new book, What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship and Love (Scribner) by Carole Radziwill , the widow of Anthony Radziwill, the Kennedy cousin, Polish prince, and John Jr.’s best friend, who died of cancer at age 40, just a few weeks after the Kennedy-Bessette plane went down. Carole Radziwill and Carolyn Bessette were also best friends, and the book has it all--beautiful writing, love and loss, insider Kennedy family dish, and lots of food for thought about what it means to have everything--money, status, good looks, royal blood, prestigious jobs--yet to be powerless against an untimely death, whether the cause is bad luck, cancer, or a tragic plane crash. I was riveted. But I wish Radziwill didn’t end her story with the summer of deaths. I want to know more about how she managed to pick up the pieces after such devastating loss.

    Some people, after their own cancer experiences, don’t like to read books that bring back the nightmare--the lightening bolt diagnosis, the fear and physical pain, the dashed hopes, the insensitivity and thoughtless remarks of the medical profession, etc. I don’t fall into that camp with books, but I definitely understand it. And I feel the same way about those cheesy disease- of-the- week movies, or any tv show or movie where a child or mother dies from a lingering illness. I just can’t watch them. And once I recovered from cancer treatment, I never had any interest in watching the ER- type shows any more. I guess they served their purpose when I needed them.
Published On: November 28, 2005