The Fault in Our Stars tells the beautifully tragic love story of two star-crossed teens who are struggling with cancer. John Green’s novel quickly achieved popularity among more than teenage girls, reaching #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Millions have watched the movie adaptation since it came out last month, and it has received many positive reviews from outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But TFIOS, as it’s called, is fiction. We wanted to talk to a non-fictional cancer survivor.
Tracy Maxwell, author of the forthcoming Being Single, with Cancer, shared her perspective with us. She describes herself as “a huge movie buff” who also loves to read, and she’s read and watched many cancer stories. One critique of TFIOS has been its inaccuracy. Those familiar with the effects of cancer wonder how its main character, Hazel, maintained perfectly coiffed hair when she was being treated for Stage 4 Thyroid Cancer. The Economist even called the movie “flagrantly not ‘the truth.’” We asked Tracy whether she thought about the popular fictionalizations of cancer stories like The Fault in Our Stars or My Sister’s Keeper. She said, “I often feel that they get many of the details wrong, which is not surprising, but that the emotions are usually spot on. I think overall the effects are positive. Everyone likes to feel that their experience is validated in some way, and popular culture does that well with musical, movie and literary depictions.”
Hazel and Augustus’ love story certainly invokes our emotions. Even renowned reviewer A. O. Scott, asserting that “the film sets out to make you weep — not just sniffle or choke up a little, but sob until your nose runs and your face turns blotchy,” acknowledges that it succeeds. However, Scott points out that the way the movie depicts Hazel and Gus’ love story turns their cancer into “a perfect and irresistible fantasy” where they have automatic moral authority. Scott suggests that the audience may even feel envious of the pair.
Tracy tells us that she too envied Hazel’s perfect-but-for-cancer life. Tracy takes the unique approach of writing about cancer for those who go through it when they’re single, but also for anyone who feels lonely. She offers invaluable insight into the emotions of this movie, the emotions of having cancer, and simply loneliness:
“I found myself being jealous of Hazel’s experience with loving parents to make sure she was fed healthy food, to come running when she called in the night, and an awesome boyfriend who loved her by her side. She had so much physical and emotional support. While I had many, many people who cared for me, called, sent cards and gifts, took me to doctor’s appointments and treatment and otherwise provided support, the majority of the time I was alone. There wasn’t a second income or health insurance to fall back on, so working was a necessity, I might not have felt up to cooking, but there wasn’t anyone else to do it, and other survivors shared what I also felt about nighttime being the hardest. That is often when worries and fears came up, and the darkness and being alone were felt most deeply. The first line of my book is: "feeling alone is far worse than having cancer," and I still believe that’s true.” –Tracy Maxwell, author of Being Single, with Cancer, available for preorder now