Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, June 25, 2010

Screenwriting is not for Sissies

by Kerry Blair

As sorry as I tend to feel for myself when I leave the oncologist's office, I usually feel just a little bit sorrier for him.

The distinguished older gentleman is a native of India. After almost four decades in the U.S., he still speaks with a heavy accent. I don't feel sorry for him over that, of course; it's too charming.

Since he owns both cancer clinics in the county, I'd bet he trades in his sports car every 200 miles, or whenever it needs washing, whichever comes first. No pity from me there.

I could feel a little sympathy for how he spends his days. Next to the work Mother Theresa did in his homeland, I doubt there's a much more emotionally draining career on the planet. For sure there's nothing I'd like less than tending cancer patients all day, every day. I'm often the healthiest person at the clinic and I'm . . . um . . . sick. The only reason I don't empathize more with his career choice is because I strongly believe the aforementioned earthly perks are the least of that man's rewards. He's such a genuinely good and kind person that he's almost reached Mother Theresa status on a local level. Moreover, no mortal could give service as he does without pretty much ensuring (insuring? both?) an eternal abode in the nicest neighborhood of the After Here.

So, why do I feel sorry for the guy? Mostly because I tend to give him such a hard time . . . and take more satisfaction in it than I really should.

I began seeing him just a few months ago when our insurance provider changed. At our first meeting I told him I didn't think I wanted any further treatment. I'd already slipped from stage one to stage two despite miserable chemotherapy. I didn't see the point in torturing myself and my family through stage three and into four, just to die anyway. What I wanted from him was an easy, painless express route. He clearly didn't understand my feelings, so I offered him my go-to analogy.

As many of you know, I have long had a compelling (and probably unhealthy) fascination with disaster movies. Like romances that sell fifty-for-a-dollar at thrift stores, most disaster flicks share a formulaic plotline. During the opening credits, there are millions of characters milling around. (Billions if the entire earth is in peril.) You don't "meet" that many, of course. You're just expected to know they're out there, waiting to die when the disaster hits L.A. . . . or New York . . . or Tokyo . . . or wherever. You are instead introduced to a core group of scientists and hangers-on -- some good, some not-so-much -- who go about their generally mundane lives until the meteor falls, the volcano erupts, the poles shift, the virus escapes the lab, or Godzilla wades out of the Atlantic. At that point, hundreds (or thousands or millions) of "extras" die almost immediately while our heroes perform whatever ridiculously superhuman stunts it takes to get them through to Act II.

I know I don't have to stretch the analogy out for you, but the doctor looked at me like I was a newly-mutated mold in a dirty petrie dish. I quickly explained that while I'd love to be a cancer survivor, I couldn't help but wonder: "What if I'm not the protagonist? What if I'm a loveable-but-dispensable sidekick who survives six or eight super-close calls in Acts I and II, only to bite the big one in Act III when the emotional toll on the audience is the greatest? I mean, every single time I watch somebody's skin start to peel off from radiation sickness I think, 'I bet you wish you'd been one of the lucky ones at Ground Zero.'"

Once the good doctor more or less grasped my underlying paranoia he said, "But don't you want to see your children get married? Your grandchildren grow up?"

Even discounting the probability that, at the rate my children are going, I'm going to have to live well into my hundreds and/or undergo cryogenics to see even one grandchild enter mortality, I was ready with a carefully-considered response. "There is no doubt in my mind I will see everything," I told him. "The question is if they will be able to see me seeing it."

He told me kindly that my feelings were very normal--even if my perspective was a little skewed--and scribbled out a prescription for an antidepressant. I took the next round of chemo.

While the aforementioned medication has likely made me easier to live with, it hasn't done much to change my point of view.

Today (Thursday) we discussed a third round of chemotherapy. I didn't get better as a result of the second round, but I didn't get any worse, either. It turns out that when doctors play chess with ovarian cancer, they consider a draw in the same league as major victory. He even had the temerity to use the word "miracle" in conjunction with the outcome. (A miracle, of course, is something else entirely; a remarkable thing I have not yet ruled out, especially considering the prayer power of my team.) Unfortunately, I am now sloshing around with four to six liters of possibly-cancerous fluid in an otherwise-unused body cavity. It looks like I'm about to give birth to a healthy infant rhino. Since I "celebrated" my fiftieth birthday a couple of years ago, I am considering shopping for a maternity dress to wear to church tomorrow--just to see how many people at the store today and in the chapel tomorrow faint dead away.

I would be in the hospital now having the fluid drained except for a lingering staph infection. The doctor told me he'd schedule the procedure immediately except that the most likely result would be a virulent infection they probably couldn't control.

"Ooh! Let's do it!" I exclaimed. "You know I've been looking for a way to get out of dying from cancer!"

After a long sigh and quick count of all the ceiling tiles, the doctor suggested it might not hurt to double up on that antidepressant.

Except I'm not depressed. Really I'm not! At least I'm not today. (Depression and cancer go together like peanut butter and jelly.) In fact, as I said, I feel sorrier for my doctor than I do for myself. I obsess over the stupidest things and, worse, feel compelled to fill every lapse in dialogue with words that are almost always more awkward than any silence.

But, despite my many and glaring shortcomings, I honestly do know that while life seems to be all improv, there remains an infinitely gifted and infallible Screenwriter at the keyboard. Despite all my ad libbing, I am totally content to keep turning pages -- leaving the final scripting to Him.

Besides, I've already lived through a lot, so who knows? Maybe I'll turn out to be the star of this thing, after all!


At 6/25/2010 12:57 PM, Blogger brendajean said...

Your strength, humor and faith are inspirational. Thank you for sharing :)

At 6/25/2010 1:27 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Kerry, as one is probably second only to you on this blog in watching, reading, and otherwise obsessing about disaster, horror, and things that go bump in the night--right before ripping the sidekick's head off--I can say without a doubt, you are the beautiful, witty, and charming protagonist. The writer will terrify us with your possible demise, only to save you, and leave you you picnicking with your grand kids. And their won't be a sequel.

At 6/25/2010 1:53 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Kerry, you are definitely the star of the show! When your great-grandchildren are celebrating your 95th birthday party with you, they'll bless you for going through all this. Love you!

At 6/25/2010 2:31 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

I can't see anybody daring to upstage you, Kerry, so you can't be the endearing, and disposable, sidekick. Just ain't possible. And I'm really surprised the doctor could get two words in sideways at your appointments. Actually, I think doctors in general intentionally do the silent treatment. Letting the patient continue to jabber on tells them more about their condition than any question they can think to ask. Lick your finger and turn the next page of your life.

At 6/25/2010 2:55 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

You're inspirational! If there is one thing I fear in this life it is cancer. Thank you for sharing your journey, your fears, your humor, your life with us.

Beat this one for me and all those out there who want to see cancer get a kick in the $#@.

At 6/25/2010 4:17 PM, Blogger Melanie J said...

I watched both my parents go through this and insane doses of chemo aside, laughter really is the best medicine. Except for making their doctors crazy. That was their favorite of all. I think the words "turnabout" and "fair play" were muttered often.

At 6/25/2010 5:04 PM, Anonymous T. K. Perry said...

Kerry, I love your optimism and perseverance! You're a lovable character no matter what role you play. :) But please, turn out to be the heroine that writes many more books (I love them!).

At 6/26/2010 10:01 AM, Blogger Karlene said...

That was beautiful, and funny, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing that. You are a shining example for me, and I only struggle with a few aches and pains.

At 6/26/2010 11:12 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, you're the star in more ways than you know. Each day as I sit beside my sister who is going through the same nightmare as you with the Monster C villain and accompanying depression I remind her that you're fighting and winning and she can too. On good days, with an upchuck tub on her lap, we laugh over silly things and know life is worth fighting for. I'm sure the script calls for both of you to be the heroines of your shows. Love you!

At 6/30/2010 1:42 PM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

You're the heroine, Kerry. Always and forever. And remember- the protagonist has to go through a lot of crap before winning the final battle. You're an inspiration to me, to all of us.

Love you so much!

At 7/01/2010 1:44 PM, Blogger Gale Sears said...

Hmmm...totally the star. A star is a sun, ya know? Very illuminating.
Love you, friend.


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