Almost entirely by coincidence, I ended up reading two fictional stories about cancer in the past few weeks: Wit, a play by Margret Edson and The Fault in Our Stars, a novel by John Green. Both were pretty sad, not surprising given the subject matter.
Wit is a play about Vivian Bearing, an older professor who has dedicated her whole life to researching and analyzing the 17th century poet, John Donne. Now she has been diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. Most of the action of the play is dedicated to her time in the hospital, receiving chemotherapy and various other treatments, despite her limited chances at survival. In the end the message of the play had very little to do with cancer, and was mainly focused on empathy and the American healthcare system. Set up as a heartless, strict, demanding professor who is at most respected by, and at the least loathed by her students, Professor Bearing is aware of the irony that she, who never offered any empathy, now receives no empathy from her emotionally detached oncologist or his all- science doctorial fellow. I read this play because I was presenting a scene from it in my theater class. At only about 80 pages it was a pretty quick, although far from light, read. It definitely made me think. Although I would not have chosen to read this play myself, I am glad I took the time to read it.
Partially inspired by Wit and partially inspired by the urging of several friends who had read it, I finally decided to read The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s New York Times bestseller. I had read several of his previous books, so I was familiar with his writing style. I thought I was prepared. I was not. I devoured this book, reading all of the over 300 pages in three and a half days. Featuring main characters Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, The Fault in Our Stars is, at its core, a love story: an excellent, beautiful, heart wrenching, love story. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to summarize the plot. There is no need to know the plot before deciding if you want to read this book. Be warned: you will probably cry. If you’re not in the mood to cry, then this is not the book for you. And it leaves you thinking about some capital b for Big things, like death and purpose and hope. In the end I loved it, because it evoked real emotion, and what more can you ask from a story than that?