I have to admit I was reluctant to watch The Big C at first. A comedy-drama about a cancer sufferer seemed about as entertaining as travelling in a funeral cortege. You wouldn’t want to do it unless you absolutely had to.
But, after catching a few snippets of the latest episodes of Season 2 currently showing on Channel 4 here in the UK, I finally gave in and began watching Season 1.
Although only half-way through the first season, I can say that I absolutely love The Big C! The show is not at all what I expected it to be. Far from being depressing, it’s laugh out loud funny in places, intelligent, inspiring comedy at its best.
What’s The Big C About?
The show features the wonderful Laura Linney as Cathy Jamison, a sardonic 42 year-old teacher, wife and mother who is diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma (skin cancer). Cathy has always played by the rules but once she realises she doesn’t have long to live she throws the rule book out the window and starts to live life on her own terms.
Rather than revelling in self-pity, Cathy decides not to tell her family about her cancer and to cope alone. It’s as if her diagnosis has given her a new lease on life. She kicks her husband out the house, withdraws all her savings and buys a sports car, has an affair and forms friendships with unlikely people in the form of a grouchy neighbour and an overweight student.
Freedom of Choice
While her behaviour may seem a bit reckless and hint at denial, what I love is the sense of freedom in Cathy’s choices. It’s as if her cancer diagnosis has freed her from all normal restraints and conventions and given her the courage to finally do the things she really wants to do and would never have dared to do before.
As a forty-something woman I can relate to what Cathy Jamison is experiencing, not as a fellow cancer sufferer but as a someone dealing with the challenges of mid-life transition.
How many of us in our forties think back with longing to the person we were in our teens or early twenties? Our younger selves often seem to be our freer more daring selves and the older we get the more we conform to the norms and pressures of family and suburban living. But at what cost?
It is often said that cancer is a wake-up call. And that if you’re lucky enough to survive cancer your life is changed forever and old, toxic ways of behaviour are often discarded in favour of a lifestyle that is more soul nurturing and based on personal rather than social values.
We shouldn’t have to wait for a death sentence to be imposed upon us before we finally realise that we do have freedom of choice in how we live our lives. Rules and conventions are all very well and good but not if they stifle the person you really are.
The Big C may be about cancer. But to me it is more about that other big C – CHOICE.