Saturday, September 08, 2007

September 7, 2007 - Crazy, Sexy Cancer

No, I haven’t lost my mind. That title is borrowed from a film I just watched on The Learning Channel. I’d saved it on the TiVO just before leaving for a week of study leave up at our Adirondacks place (which, by the way, is why I haven’t written any blog entries for a while).

Crazy, Sexy Cancer is an autobiographical indie documentary, made by a young woman named Kris Carr, who’s got a rare and incurable form of cancer that’s led to the growth of tumors in her lungs and liver. Kris is an actor, who was evidently experiencing some success with movie and TV roles (including an episode of Law and Order, and being a “Bud Girl” in Super Bowl commercials), before her diagnosis hit her like a ton of bricks. She quit the acting biz, and went into self-care full-time, traveling around the country seeking various complementary treatments (she says has good medical insurance to cover her traditional treatments, and financed all this jetting around by selling her New York apartment – although I wonder if she’s got other sources of financing).

I wouldn’t have thought I’d have much in common with someone like Kris (married, fiftysomething suburban Presbyterian pastor meets single, thirtysomething New York actor who practices yoga and New-Agey alternative treatments) – but, in fact, I do. Although Kris and I have different forms of cancer, and have generally taken different treatment paths, there are many places where her story and mine intersect.

Kris evidently started keeping a video journal just days after her diagnosis. Later on, the journal project became a full-blown documentary. The film catches her reactions to her illness at various stages. It’s honest, edgy, and very much focused on the perspective of young adults with cancer – who, in addition to everything else, have to worry about questions like whether they’ll ever be able to have children, and whether they’ll ever find someone to marry.

Like me, Kris is not in remission, but her cancer is moving so slowly that her doctors are recommending a “watch and wait” approach. This is where I really resonated with her situation. When I heard her doctor at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute explaining to her the counter-intuitive reasoning behind “watch and wait” – why pursuing no treatment for a time can have as good a therapeutic result as chemotherapy and similar aggressive approaches – I heard echoes of Dr. Lerner trying to explain the same thing to me.

The film shows Kris subjecting herself to some rather demanding alternative treatments, like macrobiotic diets and blender shakes (and enemas!) made from wheat grass. She explores Hindu religious practices. Some of these approaches she keeps up, and others she discards after a while. At the end, her doctor tells her that her disease is “stable” – although, having watched him speak to her several times, at various stages of her journey, it seems to me like he expected this could well be the outcome, regardless of the complementary treatments she pursued. Were these treatments responsible for her good results? It’s impossible to say. But they were part of how she took charge of her own situation, so “more power to her,” I say (although you won’t see me drinking wheat-grass potions any time soon).

In an interview on the Today show, Kris speaks of “pulling a dumpster up to my life” and ridding herself of all that was inessential. “As I was looking for the cure, I really found my life.” She sounds a lot, here, like Lance Armstrong, who has said, “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.” I can certainly attest to the fact that it does give your life a certain focus.

Kris is presently on a national book tour, promoting her self-help book, Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. She’s also blogging about the experience.

Her film is well worth watching. She doesn’t know, by the way, whether TLC will ever replay it, but a DVD is apparently in production.

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