An altered life

Cathy (Laura Linney) and her lover, played by Idris Elba

“Growing old is a privilege,” Cathy tells her aunt, one of the guests at her surprise 43rd birthday party, in The Big C. We all know Cathy (played by brilliant actor Laura Linney) might not live to her next birthday because she’s been diagnosed with advanced melanoma, so we understand just what she means, even if her aunt doesn’t. We’re in on the secret.  No one else is, except Cathy’s dotty next-door neighbor.

That’s precisely what makes the new Showtime series so compelling. We become Cathy, thinking what we’d say and how we’d act if we had a terminal illness. Would we keep our cancer a secret from everyone, including our family? Would we act on all our impulses, including having wild sex with a relative stranger, installing an in-ground pool in the backyard, buying an $80,000 convertible and eating and drinking with abandon?

Cathy helps us confront our mortality, and although the show is somewhat unnerving, it forces us to remember (at least for 29 minutes once a week) that we’d all be wise to make the most out of every minute.  After all, what really is the difference between someone who is terminally ill and someone who is not, given none of us has a guaranteed expiration date stamped on our forehead?

I’m learning to look around me more closely, to listen more intently and to relish all the good stuff I’m privileged to have (including growing older). Cathy is intent on cramming all her living into the limited time she has left. She wants to make sure her teenage son has the right values, her need to be loved is fulfilled, her brother comes to terms with their selfish father. She wants everything to be in order when her time is up.

I can’t stop thinking what I’d do I were Cathy.

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0 Responses to “An altered life”

  1. cds says:

    TOBY, that was really moving.
    Who are you?

  2. Duchesse says:

    Thanks for stepping up, Geri! I wish women wouldn’t go on about their flabby arms, limp hair, thighs or whatever. You are here. And as they say, you don’t get out of this alive. If it takes Cathy or whomever, I’m grateful more people are waking up and doing whatever butters their biscuit while they’re here.

  3. Deborah Farkas says:

    Toby, I so agree with you. When we, or someone close to us faces death we tell ourselves to “stop and smell the roses”. We do this for a few days, weeks, or months but the daily grind beats us back into the rut of not moving through life with our eyes open. I try to take a few minutes every morning to still my mind and remember what I am grateful for and how much I am going to enjoy the day ahead of me.

  4. Toby Wollin says:

    “After all, what really is the difference between someone who is terminally ill and someone who is not, given none of us has a guaranteed expiration date stamped on our forehead?” Well, one of the big differences is that most people who are terminally ill reach a point where they can’t do anything anymore. Sometimes people reach that point before they are terminal, like my dad, who got chained to a dialysis machine three times a week for the last two years of his life. On the days when he had dialysis, he felt terrible. On the days after he had dialysis, he felt only slightly less terrible. For the last two years of his life, he had one day a week, Sunday, when he started approaching good, but because he’d be two days away from dialysis, by the afternoon, he’d start downhill again. He was acutely aware of the fact that the machine was keeping him alive, and that the quality of that life hovered in the ‘relatively nasty’ range. The only reason he kept it up was that my mom was still alive and he wanted to be with her. All the things they loved to do together – walks and travel and social activities and so on, stopped and their circle became smaller and smaller and eventually, his life revolved around movement between his easy chair in the livingroom, his bed, and the diningroom table. And that is the way of it. Which is why I always tell people, especially women who have spent their lives caring for others, putting their own dreams last, always worshiping at the alter of “Someday”, that ‘someday’ had better be NOW. Because what draws the line in the sand between “I’ll do that someday” and “I can’t do that now” is one fall…one heart attack…one car accident…one diagnosis. Literally 30 seconds and your life can change forever.


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