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What Hollywood Gets Right About Teens With Chronic Illness

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I belong to a community I never wanted to, but that has changed my life in ways I cannot even express.

I am part of the group of young adults and teenagers who have chronic illnesses, and are fighting these diseases constantly. Unfortunately, as with any situation, it’s difficult to understand what someone is going through if you haven’t gone through it.

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I met my best friend through my illness. I have also met so many other fabulous people who have helped me through this journey. I read “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green before and after I got sick, and empathized greatly with the main character, Hazel. I watched the movie when it came out in the theater with my best friend.

Similarly, I was ecstatic when I discovered that there would be a TV show (“Red Band Society“) about teenagers in the hospital. I was in the hospital when it came out, and I watched the episodes beneath the glow of my IV pole.

However, not everyone in the chronic illness world shared my views. Many chronically ill teens and young people were upset by the glorification of illness, and how it forms a very untrue portrait of chronic and critical illness in the public eye. And I agree — the TFIOS movie and “Red Band” show are both inaccurate.

The characters in the “Red Band Society” make the hospital look like a party, complete with beer, rooftop fires, and romance. I’ve spent over five months in the hospital over the past year, and I can tell you I’ve never seen a rooftop fire nor fallen in love. “The Fault in Our Stars,” especially the movie, makes terminal cancer look like a literal walk in the park, with dream vacations and an epic love story.

Yes, there is a lot of inaccuracy and drama in these fictional stories about illness. But what are we supposed to expect? This is fiction. This is Hollywood. Everything is dramatized to look much larger than life. There are very few movies and TV shows I have seen that aren’t glorified. I hate to say it but it’s true: it’s hard to sell a story that stars real life.

chronic illness the mighty

But what is the alternative to having these stories be blown up larger than life for the big screen? Not showing them? Keeping everyone who doesn’t have a link to these diseases in the dark?

So many people have no idea that young people can get sick. Teenagers are supposed to be at the pinnacle of health, the topmost point of physical excellence. Even doctors sometimes seem to have difficulty believing that I, a 16-year-old, am totally dependent on a feeding tube for survival.

Yet I am not alone in my situation. Movies and shows like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Red Band Society” spread awareness. They show people that there are teenagers who are not healthy. They show that there are diseases that modern medicine cannot fix — and we need awareness to find solutions.

This post originally appeared on “Her Breath Is Made of Starlight.”

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Originally published: April 3, 2015
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