Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Big C and Me

The incomparable Linney 
Though it made me cry from a pit in my heart, I think The Big C: hereafter was a stunning production.  When the series began in August 2010, I watched because I wanted to see how television was going to handle cancer — a fact of everyone's life in some way. Not a person reading this won't have lost a family member, friend, coworker to some form of cancer and know someone or someones living with it.  

So over two years ago I began watching Laura Linney's portrayal of Cathy Jamison — a newly diagnosed cancer patient with an aggressive form of melanoma.  I love Laura Linney, always have since I saw her in Absolute Power and then You Can Count On Me and so many others, but — her performance was a tour de force.

I don't use that phrase but it's a phrase that accurately describes how the actress uses her trademark strength and vulnerability to embody Cathy as she lives the last years of her life coping with her disease, her regular work & family lives, and trying to figure out what living she needs to cram in before she can't anymore while still being winningly hopeful that she will do everything she can to beat it.

But at the end of that September, a month after the Big C started, art imitated life when  my sister-in-law was diagnosed (overnight) with a brain tumor — glioblastoma to be exact.  What Ted Kennedy had.  And in this bizarre way, while I watched the show, simultaneously Robin lived her life with her cancer.  

Amazingly, Robin managed to have two years of terrific living — she got married to a terrific guy, traveled extensively, enjoyed her lovely home, did things with family and friends, had her first grand baby — alongside two craniotomies, a gamma knife procedure, bimonthly MRIs, radiation and chemotherapies.  The last six weeks took their toll and denied her the wonderful kind of life she'd been living, but thankfully she didn't linger.

I felt the same about Cathy Jamison.  The decision to truncate the last season fit the abruptness of loss that comes when cancer takes over.   After the humor and the accomplishments of seasons 1-3, we watched Cathy get sicker and struggle with more physical disabilities as the Big C progressed.  Season 4 — The Big C: hereafter — took us through her loss of job, shrinking options, transition to the tranquility and stark reality of hospice and — when the insurance ran out — finally bedridden back at home, surrounded by family, friends, meds and a caring hospice nurse who understands it all and has no baggage to crowd how and what she gives to Cathy in her final days.

The incomparable Robin, beautifully optimistic
It was a brave and wonderful way to use TV which for better or worse — has always been and will be — the most pervasive educator of all.  Through the realism of Linney's portrayal (supported by Oliver Platt, Gabriel Basso, John Benjamin Hickey, Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Najimy, and even in a cameo, creator and writer Darlene Hunt), we the viewers experience Cathy's declining life filled with love, sadness, pain, humor, and closure (she had a difficult father too) and we get to see her gentle transition to whatever lies hereafter.  Television at its best.

In the most ironic of ways, The Big C so mirrored what happened to Robin that I do believe if asked to sum up her too short life, she would've said what Linney's character Cathy says  —  

Lucky me.


  1. I appreciated reading these last two blogs about your sister, Robin. I have three sisters and seven brothers and can't stand the thought of having to lose any of them to this horrible disease. My oldest sister, Jeanne is a twice survivor of breast cancer and I am amazed even now as I reflect on her fighter spirit that has brought her to the 12 year mark of post cancer. All cancer fighters, whether they win the battle or not, are heros in my eyes. It is the ultimate test of endurance to live fully in spite of an enemy fighting within to rob you of that very life.
    My dad died too young of pancreatic cancer at the age of 51, four months after his diagnosis. My mom still had eight of our eleven children living at home, and I was just graduating from college. We have missed his presence from our lives since 1974. He has 33 grandchildren he has only seen from the heavenly perspective. Then my sweet mom died in 1994 from lymphoma at the age of 72. Cancer has taken its toll on our family sadly. Cancer is the "Big C" for sure, but it can't rob us of the "Big L", Love!

    1. "GeeGee" thank you for this comment...I am sorry that cancer has taken it's toll on your family and so many others. Happy your sister Jeanne is still with you.

      Actually "The Love of My Sister" was about Donna, who died from breast cancer. "The Big C and Me" was about my sister-in-law Robin, who died of brain cancer. And I actually wrote another post "My Cousin Dindoe" about my first cousin Linda who died of colon cancer. It is a disease that doesn't quit. But I am inspired by your observation that we can endure with the help of The Big L, LOVE! Thank you!