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The Help Train Arrives: Kristina Suffers Through Good Intentions on "Parenthood"

"Parenthood"'s breast cancer storyline strikes a chord.

In this week's episode, the writers poignantly portray the dichotomy between Kristina's feelings regarding the unabating, overwhelming nature of her diagnosis -- and the awkwardness and helplessness of the bystanders to Kristina's experience.  This episode shows how difficult it is to empathize, how one's own feelings dictate one's actions, how hard it is to react appropriately to the needs of a cancer patient.

In a scene that is both comical and cringe-inducing, a couple visits Kristina, chicken in hand; they ask her how she's holding up, and crumple in her arms.  The chicken is more of a nuisance than a help because she has to find space in the fridge which is crowded with several identical chickens, same exact packaging-- her friends must all shop at the same market!  She can't share with them what she's really feeling.  She says, "I'm home."  So they make small small talk about their own marital issues and sex therapy, until the wife bursts into tears and falls into Kristina's arms-- causing her pain because she's still sore from her lumpectomy.  Kristina winds up consoling them and dealing with their feelings, while she doesn't know what to do with her own.

Her mother-in-law, Camille, has good intentions and truly cares about her, but she does all the wrong things: she cleans up Max's toys (that's his job), moves things around in the kitchen to make it easier for Kristina to reach them (Kristina is frustrated that she can't find things in her own kitchen), tells Kristina to think of her upcoming chemo as a "platoon of soldiers" instead of poison (thanks, she read the literature herself), and doesn't read Kristina's face when she so obviously wants to escape from her friends' visit.  Because Camille is inside Camille's head, not Kristina's.

Kristina needs other things. She tells Adam that she wants to pick up the baby and take care of her family.  She tells him that she wants to curl up into a ball, but she can't, because his mother is around.  And she wants her mom, who hasn't visited yet.  

In the end, Camille does give Kristina what she needs: a cover up handed down from two other cancer survivors who used it during their treatment to keep warm; she acknowledges Kristina's sadness about her mother's seeming indifference, and she tells her how she feels about her.

Adam's feelings are not validated either.  He's bent out of shape when someone tells him, "G-d only gives you what you can handle."  He doesn't understand the purpose in making such a statement.  A phrase irked me during my illness--"You never know, you could be crossing the street and get hit by a bus."  In other words, why worry (about your illness) when you never really know what each day will bring.  The possibility of getting hit by a bus is not a fear that normally consumes a person because it is hypothetical and because precautions can be taken that lower the risk of that happening.  On the other hand, a cancer diagnosis is like being caught in the middle of the road and seeing a bus barreling towards you--as your adrenaline is pumping, you don't know whether there will be enough time to get out of the way.

Certainly not hypothetical.  The risk is real, in your face.  Like the possibility of not being at your daughter's bat mitzvah 16 months down the road.  Pre-diagnosis it's taken for granted.  

We all talk about the fragile and fleeting nature of life, but "understanding" a concept and "feeling" a situation are two very different things.  Never before had I felt so out of control and scared for my own body.  Cancer is sneaky.  It can spread; it can recur.  And as I learned during my illness, there's so much we don't know or understand about it.

Contemplating being hit by a bus is like a healthy person worrying every day they might have cancer.  Actually finding a tumor in your own body is a whole other story.

Adam's good intentions misfire too.  He wants to protect Kristina and to him this means making her life easier and helping her stay on the doctor's program: no-sugar diet, no heavy lifting, no driving.  In solidarity with her he drinks a disgusting health shake with her and agrees to forgo alcohol.  But that's not what she wants.  She wants wine.  The tightness leaves her face when she, against the rules, picks up Max from school while eating an ice cream cone, and later throws a skeeball at the arcade.  Only at the end of the episode does she get what she needs from Adam -- he covers her with Camille's gift and holds her hand as she gets hooked up to the IV bag -- a scene with no words that speaks volumes.

The next episode airs Tuesday night at 10 on NBC.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Helene Schonbrun November 25, 2012 at 10:51 PM
A very moving short film discussing the history of the real cancer sweater that inspired the piece about Camille giving Kristina a cancer sweater http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HU4pE6Vme3k

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