I haven’t read the book, though I have owned it since it was first published. I wound up at the movie, not because I wanted to see it but because a friend wanted to see it and asked me to go with her. After I bought my ticket, I told her I had a lot of trepedation about seeing it. She responded that she hadn’t thought about that. The great unspoken that. CANCER.
Gus, the boyfriend Hazel meets at a recovery group meeting, Gus who lost a leg to cancer, but has an 85% chance of being cancer free, relapses at the end of the movie and dies. Gus, the one who wanted to make his mark on the world, to be remembered. Gus dies before he is 20.
For me, Gus is the reminder of the randomness of cancer. That is the awfulness of cancer. It is totally random. People who have never smoked die of lung cancer (the least funded of the cancers because people assume if you have lung cancer, it’s your fault). People who do all the right things die of ovarian cancer. Even the wealthy, smart can’t escape--Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer.
For me, cancer was random. I was in great health. I wasn’t concerned about cancer because there was none in my family, except “old age cancers”--those that hit because well something has to kill you. No, I knew that heart disease was a much greater risk for women than cancer. So, I was eating a healthy diet. I had started running. I felt great. Until I didn’t.
I struggled with randomness. I learned that life is fragile. All life. Mine. Yours. Life is uncertain. It’s not the way most people live though. I read how you can reduce your chances of getting cancer by doing, well, all the things I was doing when I was diagnosed.
Cancer told me that nothing is in my control. Life can be taken away without warning.
But, few who haven’t had cancer or some other devastating random loss believe this. I watch them do, as I used to do, justify why it always happens to the other person. I watch them go through life as if it is infinite, wasting time, ignoring friends, family, spouses for work.
And I struggle with the ease of not living each moment, with wasting time on meaningless stuff. I want to experience each moment of my “one wild and precious life” but it is so easy to choose death in life: trashy TV and novels, computer games, eating to dull the pain of loneliness.
“...That we but mortals be.” The truth so hard to grasp, to live into.