The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is one of the most poignant love stories of my generation. It explores the young love of two teenagers diagnosed with cancer: Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. Aside from their similarly weird senses of humor and taste in books, they have completely different outlooks on life. Hazel is resigned to the fact that she will never be truly well and healthy, living an ordinary and unremarkable life constantly connected to an oxygen tank. Augustus, an amputee, refuses to live unremarkably. He wants to be remembered, and live a life worth remembering. Together, they ask the hard questions about life and the afterlife every dying teenager thinks of, and make each other face their flaws, fears, and whatever it is holding them back from living life as it is. We, the readers, are taken along with them through their triumphs, trials, joys, and deep sorrows, their journey of reassessing what they believe in, and discovering how valuable a single individual’s life is in the grand scheme of things.
A few days after finishing the book, still high on how moving it was, I was alerted by a social media post alerted me to the fact that last September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. My family has lost three loved ones to cancer, but despite that, I know very little about it, especially childhood cancer. But after reading this story, I learned a lot about how unpredictable and complicated cancer can be, and the human experience of feeling yourself weaken and deteriorate, and yet still fighting for the hope of living.
In the book, Augustus Waters says, “My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart are made of me…” As our organs, our muscle tissue, and our blood is made of cells, so are tumors and cancerous growths. Cancer is caused by cells with mutated DNA that grow and divide uncontrollably. DNA is what instructs the individual cells on their basic functions and once mutated, they can fail to properly carry out those functions properly, causing a cell to be cancerous. Cancer cells damage and infiltrate regular body tissue and often haves the ability to spread throughout the whole body at a rapid pace. Cancer patients are, in essence, fighting themselves. “It’s a civil war.”
There’s no one cause for cancer. Some are acquired through cancer-causing chemicals, hormones, smoking, and others. Some are inherited before people are born. Sometimes it’s a mix of both. There is also currently no cure, though with the technology and data we have now, a cure is it’s closer than ever. But in the meantime, 300,000 children worldwide get diagnosed with cancer every year, and 80,000 pass away. Aside from discovering a cure, the best news a cancer patient can hope of hearing is being declared NEC, or having “no evidence of cancer.”
Cancer can changes the lives of not only the cancer patients, but their families and friends, too. Hazel Grace knows this very well. In a moment of weakness, she cries to her mom, “I am going to die and leave you here alone and you won’t have a me to hover around and you won’t be a mother anymore, and I’m sorry…” But Hazel’s mother doesn’t give up on her. The whole book shows how much the parents of cancer kids care for them and how hard they can fight. so so much. Hazel’s mom gave up her career to take care of her. and Isaac, a friend of Hazel theirs who loses his eyesight permanently, is accompanied everywhere by his mom, helping him maneuver and live in a world he can’t see. Augustus’ parents struggle to let their terminally ill son go on a trip abroad, but have to let him live what life he has left.
There’s so much love and care in this book, it’s overwhelming. Familial, platonic, and romantic love is shown as so much more precious when one is dying. And when a young person finally succumbs to his their sickness and passes away, it’s unbearably unfair. Out of the 300,000 diagnosed, 80,000 children die of cancer every year. That is 80,000 smiles not smiled, jokes not made, school seats empty, families mourning, friends lost, and lives not lived. It hurts to love someone so deeply and yet have to say goodbye too soon, before they even get to grow up, discover what they’re good at, or fall in love. “But,” at the end of the day, “it was such a privilege to love him, huh?” And it was such a privilege to read this book, about the hopes, dreams, and experiences of two kids in love under extreme circumstances that just brought them and their families closer together. John Green wrote a timeless book about joy and deep sadness and true love that is one for the ages, and it was a pleasure to go on this literary journey.
This October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. While there are rare cases of men also diagnosed with breast cancer, it is women that are affected the most. Mothers, daughters, and sisters should make it a habit to get regular check-ups to avoid having cancer cells develop. While being diagnosed with cancer is very scary, there are new and innovative ways of preventing and treating cancer are being researched every day. It’s up to us to support and fund projects and initiatives that do so, and help and participate in ways to prevent cancer. In the words of Augustus Waters, we should strive to be able to say to every child successfully treated for cancer, “You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!”