I am not into cancer movies. There’s something about the majority of them – at least the ones I’ve seen – that does not accurately portray my reality of having cancer. Maybe that’s too much to expect from Hollywood, but it still bothers me how they leave out some of the real and true details – like when a patient loses support from friends or family; or people not wanting to hear about your reality; or the way unresolved family drama isn’t “cured” because one of the members is facing the disease, and everyone becomes a supposedly better and wiser and kinder person because of it.
There is, however, one particular cancer movie that touches me every time I see it. The movie is called “My Life” with Nicole Kidman and Michael Keaton. The movie isn’t necessarily perfect, but from my perspective, it deals with cancer more believably than the other cancer movies. I appreciate it because it covers a lot of subtle topics: letting go of control, rancor, emotional pain from childhood, walking away, desperation, challenging family relationships, fear, acceptance — what I call dealing with the “unfinished business.” Those are things I can relate to. Another reason I like it is that the character gains closure before he dies. I guess that’s my Hollywood fantasy about the way I wish my own post-dx family situations could work out.
So far, this gaining of closure hasn’t been my personal experience. Obviously, I wouldn’t want the same outcome as the character from the movie, but I wouldn’t mind reaching some level of resolution in my life. I am speaking specifically about challenging family relationships that go back long before I was ever diagnosed. During my treatments, more frequently than not, we were kind to one another. Then, when treatments ended for me, things went back to disappointment, judgments, anger, misconceptions, and manipulations.
Everyone has family drama in some form. Mine seem to go back to my infancy. As a reminder, I was not raised by my biological parents, but by my maternal grandparents. That fact wasn’t especially dramatic or traumatizing for me because my grandmother did a great job raising me. And I was happy. I saw my biological mother very rarely, so our relationship was never solid. Our relationship did not improve when I came to the U.S. to live with her full time when I was 14. We simply lacked a mother/daughter bond that should have been natural, but wasn’t because of all the circumstances, including some circumstances I still don’t understand. It’s sad. Whether I like to admit it or not, my anger over not having a motherly bond has contributed to how I was shaped as a person. [And, the death of my grandma when I was still in my teens took away the person who really mothered me.]
Despite my mother and I not being able to bond, and me trying to accept that fact and move past it, it still hurts me. Deep down, I wish I had a different situation, closer to my perception of what a healthy, supportive family is supposed to look and feel like. My grandmother represents what that means. But she is gone.
Unlike the character in “My Life,” I have not reached any resolution with some of my family members. I’ve tried to talk about my feelings many times before, but the communication gets lost in defensiveness (probably on both sides). The idea that I will be waiting for my ‘last minute’ (or theirs) with the hope of there being a movie-style resolution to our problems feels very sad. And at that point, I wouldn’t want to deal with it, to be honest. I’m already too frustrated and tired, looking for understanding that never comes, and dealing with the disappointment.
Family dramas don’t get fixed by cancer. And just because you walk away from a situation (like I’ve tried to) doesn’t mean you’re healed.
Since my dx and treatments, people seem to have expected me to change and become who THEY wanted me to become, in addition to being more tolerant than ever of their unreasonable behavior toward me. It hurts me to say, but more than one family member has expressed the idea that “God gave her this disease to send her a message so that she changes her ways.” And yes, knowing that some ‘loved ones’ have those attitudes has not helped me to be more tolerant of them.
Maybe we all have a different perception of what family is supposed to be. I know that my inability to accept the fact that this is just “how it is” doesn’t allow me to move forward and free myself from emotional pain, disappointment, and frustration.
Like Michael Keaton in the movie, I often feel like I am running out of time. I don’t want to be hung up on these unresolved family matters that I tried to walk away from (for my sense of well being). The character from the movie actually walked away too, and even changed his name. I need to be at peace with the idea that my family situations may never be resolved and that sometimes unfinished business stays unfinished.