by Heidi Adams
Wednesday night, LIVESTRONG hosted a screening of the movie 50/50 in Washington, D.C., with special guests Will Reiser, the film?s writer, and Seth Rogen, the film?s star and producer. The movie was inspired by Reiser?s own experience of being diagnosed with cancer in his late 20s. After he finished treatment, Reiser and his friends, including real-life best friend Rogen, felt that there was a place for an authentic and honest movie conveying the absurdity and challenges they had faced while trying to navigate the experience. The movie will be released nationwide on September 30. Visit http://livestrong.org/Take-Action/5050 for more information.
Blog by Heidi Adams, Young Adult Cancer Survivor, Founder of Planet Cancer, author and LIVESTRONG‘s Senior Director of Engagement.
At the end of Wednesday night?s LIVESTRONG screening of 50/50, a packed house of cancer survivors, advocates, researchers and healthcare professionals stood up and applauded writer Will Reiser and actor/producer Seth Rogen as they walked down to the front of the theater for a Q&A. Just days before, the film had received another standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, but for a cancer movie, this D.C. audience was a tough crowd, and they were completely won over.
You can read reviews of the movie in many places, so I?ll leave that to the critics, but I want to talk about why we at LIVESTRONG think this is an important film for cancer survivors, especially young adults. (And, yes, I acknowledge that ?important film? isn?t a phrase normally associated with the guy who did Superbad and Knocked Up. But stay with me here?)
It all goes back to the way we at LIVESTRONG approach our mission, which is about fundamentally changing a person?s experience of cancer for the better. We want to improve the systems around the patient?clinical practice, research, access to care?as well as the individual experience, ensuring that people are provided with the direct support and services that they need.
While this approach informs our work for all people affected by cancer, we have had a focus on young adults (age 15-39) for nearly a decade, after discovering that this group of patients has been virtually ignored on every front?clinical, research, and psychosocial?with the result that their survival rates have remained almost flat since the 1970s, while their older and younger counterparts have seen significant increases in survival.
On the individual front, LIVESTRONG Navigation Services team members serve young adults every single day, connecting them with appropriate resources and answering questions ranging from ?What should I do if I want to have children after chemotherapy?? to ?How can I keep my insurance if I can?t stay in school?? to ?Why do I feel like the only young person in the world with cancer??
On the systems level, through the LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance, we have worked with the National Cancer Institute, patient advocacy organizations, professional societies and cancer centers around the country to have young adults recognized in the medical and research community as a population with unique needs, issues and even their own distinct types of cancer.
50/50 is an ?important film? on both of those levels. At the systems level, one of the biggest problems we have faced over the years in tackling the young adult issue is a stunning lack of awareness of the fact that, first, young adults DO get cancer?it?s the leading cause of death due to disease in this age group?and second, that they have unique needs and issues related to their age and stage of life. But we can?t FIX the problem until there is widespread awareness OF the problem, and the fact that there is a mainstream movie with an A-list cast telling an authentic and candid story of the young adult cancer experience presents a huge opportunity to blow the doors open on this conversation.
For individuals, this is a movie that many thousands of young adults with cancer?and their friends, coworkers and family members–will see as reflecting and validating their own experiences. It?s a movie that will help them realize that they are not crazy: that absurd things happen, that it?s okay to laugh, that there is no ?right? way to get through it, that everyone will make some mistakes, and that all we can do is try our best and support each other. And in the community forming around this film, many young adults will realize that they are not alone. That, even though they may not see anyone else their own age in the waiting room, there are enough young people out there with certain shared experiences to justify the making of this particular movie.
Yes, it is a quintessential Seth Rogen movie—that is to say, it unapologetically reflects a slice of young adulthood. There?s a lot of bathroom humor and sex talk, and shameless playing of the cancer card to get girls. But there are also plenty of piercingly true moments that plunge much deeper: a friend?s death, awkward and poignant family dynamics, a cheating girlfriend who can?t handle the situation. Reiser and Rogen both agree that they didn?t put anything on the screen?funny or not– that didn?t feel real and authentic, or that didn?t reflect either their own experiences or those of the many cancer survivors with whom they spoke while doing research for the film.
Without giving anything away, the movie ends with quite possibly the most suitable closing phrase ever: ?Now what??
So here?s our answer to that question:
- Go see 50/50, and then talk about it. Whether you liked it, disagreed with it, were challenged by it or laughed your head off, talk to your friends and family about it and share what you now know: cancer happens in young people, it happens more often than you think, and we need to make both healthy young adults and the medical community aware of it in order to mend the survival rate gap. Blog about the movie. Tweet about the movie with hashtag #BeatTheOdds and go to www.facebook.com/5050Movie.
- If you are (or if you know) a young person with cancer, know that LIVESTRONG has services that can help with the many challenges you may be facing. Between our own resources and those of our many partners, we?ve got you covered. Call 855-220-7777 or go to livestrong.org/gethelp.
Enjoy the show.