Beyond the Byline: Why aren’t there more people like me on TV?

By Melanie Mizenko - [email protected] | February 15th, 2017 7:20 pm

I was sitting watching “CSI:Miami” the other night when I suddenly thought:

“Why aren’t there more people like me, a cancer patient, on television?”

And by me, I mean someone who goes to work everyday, reads books, eats out with family and tries to enjoy life. (Side note: I was talking about writing the article while talking to a friend and he said I should say “like me, a superhero.” I am not a superhero.)

And as I searched for an answer on the Internet, I was shocked. I couldn’t find one.

In 2012, Italian researchers analyzed 82 cancer-themed movies, including “Gran Torino” with findings including that rarer cancers are most often featured and that characters were more likely to die than real-life patients. The same study found common cancers, including breast cancer, are hardly represented, while relatively rare leukemia, lymphomas and brain tumors are predominant.

There are more than 100 types of cancers — based on cell’s formed or the organs from where the cancer’s originate — according to the National Cancer Institute.

Sure, most cancer patients aren’t Hollywood material — young and attractive. They are typically middle-age. Being a cancer patient can involve some tricky ideas: colostomy bags, surgeries, days of being lazy because you can’t move — definitely not Hollywood best sellers.

If “CSI:Miami” hadn’t had a cancer theme during a few episodes of its fourth season, I never would have thought of the question.

In short:

Marisol Delko, the main character’s girlfriend, has breast cancer. The first time the viewers see her, she’s buying marijuana off the street to quell her pain. So kudos to the show’s writers. They were ahead of that curve.

But as the season went on, there were only a few moments of one episode where I felt connected with her. Even then, what she went through was nothing like I have gone through. She still had her beautiful hair, and there was no one else in the room where she was receiving treatment, but her, a nurse and Horatio Caine, the show’s protagonist.

Nowadays cancer patients don’t always lose their hair. But some, like me, shave it in solidarity of our fellow brothers-and sisters-in arms. My first round of chemo, which I had an allergic reaction to, would have caused me to lose my hair. Without hesitation I had someone take a razor to my hair. It wasn’t worth watching it fall out in clumps.

Inside a chemotherapy room, there are nurses, patients, family members and sometimes doctors coming to check up on patients. It’s always busy: fluids are always going, someone’s machine is always beeping, nurses are always running around.

Personally, “Breaking Bad” had the best depiction of cancer, I’ve seen in a long time. And I watched that before I was diagnosed.

Walter White, the main character, has inoperable lung cancer and is given two years to live. The vast majority of Walter’s treatment is as an outpatient. But because of high medical bills, White turns to selling meth. He shows the best depiction of a cancer patient — strong and hopeful, yet willing to do whatever it takes. Even as he goes into remission, White does whatever he can to keep cancer at bay.

In both “Breaking Bad” and “CSI:Miami,” the two cancer-bearing characters died from a gunshot wound and not their cancer.

Cancer is not always a death sentence, as Hollywood (and most people) would believe. The majority of cancer patients walk around everyday and go about daily living.

Take it from someone who knows.

8/1/2014 The Times Leader AIMEE DILGER The Times Leader AIMEE DILGER
8/1/2014 The Times Leader AIMEE DILGER The Times Leader AIMEE DILGER

By Melanie Mizenko

[email protected]

Reach Melanie Mizenko at 570-991-6116 or on Twitter @TL_MMizenko