Catastrophic Cancer


Cancer has been defined as the disease of our era. Even with advancing medical technology, it is one of the few ‘incurable’. Those who are diagnosed with cancer are often generalised as ‘patients’ who are solely characterised by cancer. However it is important to recognise they are people with every right to live and love.

In “The fault in our stars” by John Green, the protagonist, Hazel Grace Lancaster, a ‘grenade’ as she refers to herself, has been through a huge amount strain with her disease.

However through the pain and stress young love flourishes as through a cancer support group Hazel meets the handsome and deceptively sick Augustus Waters, a 17-year-old dreamboat, her full-time star-crossed lover and future boyfriend. The novel is based more than anything on coming to terms with your own mortality. Most characters in the novel handle it in different ways: glass-half-full support group kids who try to get in touch with their spirituality and inner strength; parents who try to keep their premature grief in check; people resembling Augustus who want to make a mark on the world; and there are people like Hazel Grace who
is past the stages of attempting to rewrite her predetermined fate, dying or living.
Throughout the novel Hazel has been portrayed as a ‘professional sick person’ even by herself :

“I’d never been anything but terminal; all my treatment had been in pursuit of extending my life, not curing my cancer.”

Through this quote it shows how pressing cancer is on Hazel, to only introduce oneself to being only ‘terminal’ shows how her life has been up to this point as the dictator of her life, cancer plays the protagonist. She is also aware of her current situation, a life supported only by a fictional medical drug named Phalanxifor, her comrade in battle with cancer, only they are not fighting against cancer but exchanging victory with extended life.

With this comes a price, a price that might be argued as too precious for the result:

“Huzzah, Phalanxifor! In the past eighteen months, my mets have hardly grown, leaving me with lungs that suck at being lungs”

The drug causes Hazel’s lung to overflow but buys her extra time to be with Augustus. With Hazel’s severe medical case Green meticulously misleads the reader into sympathising for her.

Midway of the novel Augustus invites Hazel to Amsterdam to meet their longed for writer, Peter Van Houten of An Imperial Affliction through the Genies, a charity fulfilling the dreams of seriously ill cancer patients. It was here that Green broke to the reader of Augustus’ diagnoses. It was a huge shock to the reader and Hazel when Augustus says: “I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace” after his PET scan (a scan that lights up to show areas that are affected by cancer cells) implementing cancer relived. The hinted plot twist is later unmercifully revealed that when Hazel was ill Augustus went to his PET scan then came to visit her:

“She had this dark cancer water dripping out of her chest. Eyes closed. Incubated. …and for about one second I was a good enough person to hope she died so she would never know I was going too. But I wanted more time so we can fall in love. I got my wish, I suppose. I left my scar.”

This portrays a tragic love where the couple can not be together. The annoyance of it all is there is nothing to be done, it was the waited death who separated them apart. Ironically the other person is willing to sacrifice the other in order save them from further post-mortal pain. Green explains in explicit detail of their thoughts and emotions. It leaves the reader to question was it really selfless to let the other person die? But it showed courage. The courage to carry on the rest of your bleak life without the other.

Author – Jiangmin Hou

Jiangmin is a 5th year high school student currently studying five STEM subjects at Scottish Higher level-Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Computer Science and Chemistry. She is interested in pursuing a degree in Medicine after completion of Secondary Education

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