Friday, May 2, 2014

HOW CAN YOU WATCH HORROR WHEN YOU'RE DYING?

I should probably get the Human Centipede drawing tattooed on this bad boy.

The last few months have arguably been the most difficult months in my life. I apologize in advance for seemingly abandoning this site, but I've been a little bit...preoccupied. I wasn't sure if I was ever going to write about this, but if I allow illness to overtake all the things in my life that I love, then I'll never truly be cured.  Here's the truth of it all: I have/had pancreatic cancer. To save you some googling, pancreatic cancer has a 4-6% survival rate in the United States and a 3% survival rate in the United Kingdom.  A team of doctors removed a tennis ball sized pancreatic tumor, 40% of my pancreas, my entire spleen, and 20+ lymph nodes.  I spent some time in the hospital and I'm still going through recovery.  There's a 40% chance of the cancer coming back and considering I'm only 23, that's an arbitrary number because the statistics are based on a majority of people suffering from the disease being 25+ years my senior.  As of right now, I'm cancer free.  However, I have to wait 5 years to be determined truly out of the woods.  I don't want to sound like a John Green novel, but I really am a ticking time bomb. I've had to accept that there is a very distinct possibility that I'll show up at a doctor's office to find out I'm going to die.

It's been really horrifying and I'll be the first to admit I've avoided blogging on here or on Icons of Fright because I always leave a little piece of myself in everything that I write.  Knowing that I could very well be gone in a flash, I've been selfishly holding on to each piece I have left.  I've always prided myself on being a strong woman, but god damn if cancer doesn't make you feel the most vulnerable you ever will.  I've always watched a large amount of horror movies, but since being diagnosed I've found myself almost exclusively watching horror.  From my initial emergency room visit to the entire hospital stay and now in recovery, my media consumption has been dominated by horror movies (Well, and Monday night viewings of RuPaul's Drag Race).  It's one thing to explain away watching some of the depraved stuff you see in horror movies when you're healthy, but how can you watch horror when you're dying?

You should have seen my nurse's faces when they came in my room and saw this on the TV

One of the more obvious answers is "Because I like horror movies, damn it."  Horror is a huge part of my personality and it's where I find the most enjoyment.  I'm not stupid, I know how "strange" it is for people to accept the fact I'm a bonafide horror junkie.  Considering I don't stereotypically "look" like a horror fan, the general public usually sees my love of horror as something "quirky" or "interesting" that makes me unique.  When you're in a hospital, you don't want to be just a number.  I was lucky that while I was staying in the hospital, I was the youngest patient on my floor by about 30 years.  The nursing staff loved me because I didn't need someone to clean up my bowel movements and because I'd crack jokes with them at all hours of the day.  The fact I loved horror movies was something very unique to me and gave my nurses a reason to talk to me about things other than my illness and allowed them to really see me as a person, and not as a diagnosis.  Maybe that's an incredibly vain reason for watching SyFy for hours on end in a hospital and possibly horrifying the other floormates when there's nothing but screaming heard from my television, but it made a genuine difference in the quality of my hospital stay.
The TV edit of THE RUINS is garbage, by the way.
Horror was also the ultimate tool of escapism.  I needed the distraction.  Everyone around me was either crying or filled with a forced positive attitude.  Doctors and nurses were constantly telling me what to do to survive, how lucky I was and bringing me flowers and stuffed animals from people I haven't seen since high school. My parents and boyfriend were painfully retelling the story over and over and over to anyone that called and I had more social media notifications than on my birthday.  Being the center of attention like that is exhausting.  If I had to hear "how are you feeling?" one more time, I was going to rip out my IV and stab someone with it.  All I wanted to do was scream or blow everyone's heads off and since I couldn't do that...I watched it on TV.  There was something incredibly therapeutic about watching other people literally tear off their skin when all I wanted to do was live inside someone else's.  It's a lot easier to forget you're dying when you're watching other people do it in front of your eyes.  There's a safe distance because you're watching someone other than you suffer, but the reality is that no one is actually getting hurt. For me, it helped to see the pain and terror I was feeling personified on film. It permitted my anxiety to come out, be acknowledged, and socially comforted.

Did you know they let extra-terrestrials get medical degrees?
The ultimate and universal appeal of horror is the desire to survive despite tremendous odds and uncertainty. How could sick people not enjoy that?  The other part is the need to realize it could be worse. I may have cancer, but they can cut that out of me and I can (hopefully) move on with my life.  I just watched a chick get arrowed to death by some indigenous people on her spring break.  I may have staples down my stomach, but those will get removed and this other girl just took a nail gun TO THE FACE.  Okay, so I can't have sex for a month or two, but this guy was just killed while he was IN his girlfriend.  As ridiculous as some horror movie deaths are, there's a reason 1000 WAYS TO DIE had 4 seasons.  Luckily, we have people like Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton (SAW IV, V, VI, 3D, THE COLLECTOR, THE COLLECTION) that profit off of this idea and write stories with inconceivable death traps that the victims cannot escape.  The flip side to that is even if it can be worse, you become a rock star in your own mind - Hollywood's got nothing on me.  I beat THE deadliest cancer on the planet, I'm pretty sure the Jigsaw killer can kiss my ass.
Avoid husband bulges and you'll be just fine.

At the end of the day, horror makes me feel better about myself because it rewards all the virtues of living a healthy lifestyle.  Don't drink, don't smoke, don't fornicate, don't do drugs, and you'll survive.  I'm a non-smoker, I don't do drugs, I'm a responsible drinker, and I don't have mindless sex.  My doctors were baffled that they even found my cancer because of how healthy I was and the fact I showed zero symptoms.  Hell, I volunteer with the homeless and used to run a tri-city Halloween food drive for the less fortunate and I STILL got cancer before I was old enough to legally rent a car.  That's some straight up bullshit. It was so frustrating to sit in a hospital with cancer after living a healthy life while I watched people on social media brag about cheating on their girlfriends and stealing from their bosses.  I'm not one to knock people's lifestyles, but I got cancer and I'm sort of a goody two shoes! What kind of shit is that?!  Horror movies let me see the poetic justice I was craving.  I spent the first two weeks screaming "It's not fair!" at the sky, and I wasn't wrong.  Life isn't fair, but horror movies...usually are.  People like me survive, and when you're actually dying, that sort of ideal shown in the media makes a world of difference. We shouldn't need a masked slasher to improve healthcare but one certainly would help.

Hospital stays on Halloween night? Aw, hell naw.
Cancer changed my life, but it did not change who I am.  Horror movies have always been my go-to in terms of making me feel better, and that includes coming face to face with your own mortality.  I'm not looking for sympathy, and frankly, I don't want it.  Sometimes things happen in life that are uglier and more horrific than anything we can imagine, and while some people may crave hope and Nicholas Sparks movies, I want something to scare me that isn't coming out of a biopsy.  I want something to take me out of the terror that is very, very real and allow me to feel sad, scared, and angry at something other than myself.  I don't want to watch my mom cry in my hospital room because she can't save her baby girl, I want to watch Katherine Thorn struggle with raising the Anti-Christ in THE OMEN.  I don't want to look at the hideous scar on my stomach, I want to watch James Woods pull a gun out of his in VIDEODROME.  Call it shallow, but I needed a prescription for some high-quality schadenfraude.  How can you watch horror when you're dying? Honestly? How could you not?

18 comment(s):

Pax Romano said...

Terrific post...I think you should consider sending it to Salon or the Huffington Post. A lot of people will relate to your story.

And as always, Love ya, daughter. XOXOXO

Jennifer Hicks said...

Wow, I'm happy to hear you're cancer free - and happy to know you're still part of the ravenous cult of Horror lovers!
I've recently been depressed and people are shocked to know what makes me feel any happy is watching a horror movie - to them it sounds counterproductive. Too me it seems like an obvious medicine!

Anonymous said...

incurable fatal degenerative nerve disease here and YES YESYESYES!!! exACTly. the grittier and gorier the better. pure escapism. i can't punch in the face of every holier than thou idiot with platitudes so i can watch someone else do it for me. (a good sword swinger video game also helps. may i recommend Fate? wildgames wildtangeant has it and SO many more playable demos) and i write horror and scifi and keep a 'disposable' journal where i just write people dead that piss me off and destroy it once a month. it HELPS> it ALL helps.

Roger said...

Godspeed. Thanks for the update and the insight. Horror is, surprising to the uninitiated, life-affirming.

Best wishes, Roger

Dave said...

We're all dying, some quicker than others. Horror movies let us not think that we might be next. You are a gift to this world and we are all better for having read this article and knowing you.

Al Bruno III said...

Well written very heartfelt and true. My wife has a chronic illness that after some tim in remission decided to go wild last month. In the course of dealing with that the doctors found a tumor on her spine. It looks like everything is gonna be Ok for her but I also retreated into a wold of gods and monsters as an escape during this difficult time.

When it comes to cancer vs Cthulhu I'll take Cthulhu every time.

Get well and stay well young lady. To quote a famous movie doctor "The world is more interesting with you in it."

Laughing Bones said...

I love every word here. I am not sick myself, but my mother is, and watching all the horrible things that happen on the screen equip me for what is going on with her. Liquifying flesh? No problem, we have seen that. Bones breaking, people going mad? Alright, let's do this. Stay strong, and know that all of us creepy mofos are behind you, literally and figuratively.

Samuel Glass Jr. said...

I don't have a condition as nearly serious as cancer, although it's debilitating and painful, nevertheless, and as a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan who's been scarfing down a steady diet of horror since my diagnosis, I can identify with everything you said 110%. Thanks for expressing it so much better than I could, and I hope you remain cancer-free for a very long time to come.

Marvin the Macabre said...

Horror is oddly comforting, isn't it? And honestly, if you'd let cancer take your passions away, cancer would have won.

Now please do the world a huge favor and stay healthy. The horror community needs your voice.

Christine Hadden said...

Horror has helped me tremendously since my mother's brain cancer diagnosis. In fact, I've always turned to horror when the chips are down and things are bleak. Though watching horror is a more than regular occurrence at my house, I find extra comfort in throwing in Psycho when I can't get my mind off the "bad" stuff.

You know I love you and wish you well. This was a fantastic piece.
Stay strong. x

ericjohnbaker.wordpress.com said...

Rock on, BJ. Your scar is totally badass and I bet your BF thinks it's sexy. If he said so and you think he's lying to make you feel better, he's not.

The Curious Cat said...

Wow, Great, frank post...and you definitely are a fighter! I hope you are feeling better.

Brian said...

I never would have guessed you were slacking off on your blog as of late, you'd still been posting with regular frequency to me at least. Anyway, glad to hear you're ok for now and I hope you stay that way.

Cancer's a real bitch. I lost my grandmother to it last year, she had stage 3 lung cancer from smoking cigarettes for 40+ years.

I feel yah on the horror when you're dying. I had a shitty day on Monday. I watched Inside and I felt a little better afterward. Videodrome is fucking great! Cronenberg is an amazing director.

Tim said...

First time commenting here, though I've been reading for a while. I just had to say that this is as powerful an essay as I've read on the ugly subject at hand.

For myself, I was never any kind of horror fan until after I had my own bout with cancer, also at 23 (it was the kind that's really easy to survive, so I'm not going to pretend that I can know what you're feeling right now), and I found after it was all over that horror films gave me some feeling of control and superiority over death and physical weakness. So everything you've said here strikes a chord in a major way, and I can't thank you enough for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

I've never commented before, but I've been reading for a few months. This was fantastic. Uplifting piece that really got to me.

You fucking rock. I hope you enjoy watching movies for many more decades.

Jenny said...

Hi,

I can't locate your email, but please contact me if you have time with all of this going on in your life.

I wrote, am producing (and playing a supporting character in) a short film that's currently in pre-production on Kickstarter. Horror icon Lynn Lowry is acting in it.

Many of the characters are terminally-ill in the short film.

Please contact me, if you have time. Thanks, and I hope you stay all clear. You run a great blog.

Nine-Fingered Menace said...

I've been dealing with cancer since the age of 18 (I turn 33 in August). It's been miserable going, but compared to what you've described I've had it easy. I, too, use horror to help me get through that, and other issues. It's a great outlet for all those emotions that society doesn't approve of. All the best.

Shane M said...

Your a very brave person for facing down cancer. I lost my dad to it a couple of years ago. And horror is a perfect way to get your mind off of it, matter of fact any form of entertainment is.

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