Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 16, 2009 - Farrah's Story

It’s hard to believe it’s been a week already since my last blog entry. Life has been overflowing, of late – not so much with rich and wonderful experiences as with the sort of minutiae that distract from the main thing.

Anyway, last night I did manage to take some time to view Farrah’s Story on NBC TV. For several years, Hollywood celebrity Farrah Fawcett has had anal cancer that’s now metastasized to her liver. Her prognosis is not good. For the past couple years, she’s brought a video camera along on most of her medical visits. Her intention, at first, was simply to keep a personal record of the complex medical information the doctors were feeding her, but eventually it occurred to her to make a documentary out of the footage.

This is the program that premiered on NBC last night. As the documentary airs, she’s no longer receiving chemotherapy, but is said to be receiving other anti-cancer drugs. It does seem, sadly, that her doctors have just about run out of options.

The film records Farrah saying, long before she reached this stage in her treatments: “So I say to God – because it is, after all, in his hands – ‘It is seriously time for a miracle.’”

It’s a gritty, realistic documentary. It pulls few punches in displaying the pain and exhaustion that so often go along with aggressive cancer treatments. So eager was Farrah to receive the most cutting-edge treatments that she left the care of her Los Angeles doctors for a time, and flew to Germany. There she had found a surgeon willing to undertake the tricky removal of her anal tumor, as well as another doctor who was willing to directly destroy her liver tumors, one by one, with a painful laser ablation treatment that involved sticking needles directly into her abdomen.

Farrah evidently wanted to show it all: a rather surprising move, for a movie star who’s spent her life carefully managing her public image. “There were things that I thought were too invasive to film,” Farrah’s friend and collaborator Alana Stewart explained, in an interview. “But Farrah said, ‘Film it. This is what cancer is.’”

The treatments seem to have bought her some time, little more. Hers is the story of a cancer survivor who's determined to do everything possible – even pushing the limits of the possible – to aggressively turn back her disease.

Because Farrah Fawcett is who she is – a world-famous celebrity, and a very wealthy woman – she has access to treatment options few other patients can consider. The film portrays her flying back and forth to Germany on a chartered jet, and staying, during the time of her treatments, in a picturesque alpine chalet that looks like it comes straight out of Heidi. Here’s a woman who’s lived her adult life at the pinnacle of privilege, but at the end of the day, she’s like any other cancer patient. Cancer is a great leveler, that way.

Towards the conclusion of the film, Farrah even loses her trademark mane of blonde hair. I found it a strange experience to watch some of her close friends describing what a horrible sacrifice this was for her, as though a coiffure were life itself – but then, I had to remind myself, these are Hollywood people. Their aging faces display the craft of the cosmetic surgeon. For them, physical beauty takes on disproportionate importance. It seems less so for Farrah herself, actually, than for those around her.

In the film, Farrah’s longtime companion Ryan O’Neal pays tribute to her inner beauty – and that’s the impression I’m left with, from this rather roughly-edited, but very realistic film. Farrah’s Story is the tale of a survivor. Whether or not she gets the medical miracle she tells God it’s “seriously time for,” there are miracles aplenty of strength, perseverance, community and love.


Dennis Pyritz, RN said...

Great blog! I have added you to my blogroll - Cancer Blog Links at
Take Care, Dennis

Nomad said...

After seeing Farrah Fawcett's documentary I am convinced that she is an extremely genuine person; it was wonderful of her to step outside of herself to make this documentary