What the Netflix Show 'Alexa and Katie' Got Right About Teen Illness
I admit that I gravitate towards feel-good, heartwarming and non-stressful television shows. I don’t like watching violence or anything remotely scary. This is why last year I watched the first season of Netflix’s original series, “Alexa and Katie.” I was instantly hooked and thoroughly enjoyed the second season as well, which came out last week.
I know that I am probably not the target audience, as the show is about and aimed at high schoolers, but this show is very different than most shows in this genre.
The main characters, as you might have guessed, are best friends Alexa and Katie. They share a specific type of friendship that is not always reflected in shows about teens. They are not catty, petty or selfish. Sure, they’re worried about typical things like what to wear on their first day of school or how to impress cute boys, but they have been there for each other through some really tough times, including Alexa’s leukemia.
What sets this show apart is how it handles Alexa’s identity as someone with cancer. She is a typical teenager who just wants to start high school, try out for the basketball team, and spend time with her friends. At the start of the show, Alexa is cleared by her doctor to start high school but soon learns the challenges of dealing with school and illness.
I did not expect to relate to Alexa as much as I have. While I am not a cancer survivor, when I was in eighth grade I dealt with severe illness and its aftereffects. I know all about trying to maintain normalcy while dealing with doctors’ appointments, medication side affects and limited physical activity.
My appendix burst right before my 14th birthday. When most people have appendicitis, it is caught before it ruptures and is a simple procedure with a short recovery time. I have a high tolerance for pain, and the rupture was not caught until my body began to enter septic shock. My organs were shutting down, and I was later told that if it had been caught any later I would not have survived.
That’s a lot for an eighth grader to process. I had never been admitted to the hospital before, or had surgery or even just an IV placed in my arm. Like Alexa, before I got sick I was just focused on getting to high school. I was in the hospital for about a month, and missed around three months of school in total. My surgery was not simple and I had to have open surgery, in addition to several smaller procedures to get rid of the infection.
Seeing the pediatric ward that Alexa spent time in reminded me of my time in the pediatric intensive care unit. I know all about wanting your body to just go back to how it was before you got sick and about having to stay home from social events because of a compromised immune system.
My recovery was not instant and lasted into high school. The physical and psychological scars from my ordeal have not gone away, and a season 2 episode of “Alexa and Katie” nails this idea of medical PTSD. In the second season, Alexa is in maintenance and doing a lot better. She is cleared to try out for the basketball team, and is back to most of her usual activities. In this episode, focused on her family’s Christmas celebrations, she finds a bag from when she was first in the hospital. These objects transport her back to when she was feeling the worst. She has trouble focusing on the festivities around her as she is still processing what has happened to her.
My ordeal was over 11 years ago now, but it definitely still has an impact on me. A lot of my ongoing health issues stem from that time, and being in the hospital at such a young age definitely gave me a maturity I hadn’t had before. Alexa is also mature for her age, as she has had to deal with a lot that her peers have not. Throughout it all, Katie is there for her, which strongly reminded me of my best friend. During hospital stays when I was only allowed to have family in my hospital room, we said she was my sister and snuck her in. This is the type of bond that Alexa and Katie have, and I love seeing this friendship on screen.
I hope that the show continues so we can continue to see these girls’ story, especially as Alexa (hopefully) enters remission.
Lead photo courtesy of Facebook