Friday, January 30, 2009

Movie Review: Crazy Sexy Cancer

Actually, documentary review. Crazy Sexy Cancer aired on TLC semi-recently, but as I don't have cable, I found out about it through my extensive food readings and eventually landing on Kris Carr's blog (just today relocated from here).

Kris finds out by accident that she has a very rare cancer -- she thinks instead that she might have hurt herself during yoga. But no, she has cancer, in the form of several tumors throughout her liver and both lungs.

Because Kris's cancer is so rare, doctors don't have any established way of dealing with it. Her doctor tells her that often in cases like hers they wait for the cancer to make the first move and then respond to it.

It's the absence of medical options that leads Kris to seek healing along other routes. She starts by browsing at an alternative-health exposition:
Like Alice in Cancerland, I felt like I was falling down a new-age rabbit hole. I doubted the cure for cancer was hidden among the crystals, and yet doing nothing felt so disempowering. So I became a full-time healing junkie, willing to try anything.
Kris pursues all forms of healing that she stumbles across: new-age approaches like healing massages, Chinese herbs, and chakra cleansing, and then extensive research that leads to a macrobiotic diet followed by fasting and going raw. Along the way, she finds companions in other women dealing with cancer, and the camera follows all of them as they face their trials and seek recovery. Kris also finds love despite feeling, as she says, like "damaged goods."

Crazy Sexy Cancer is funny, sad, and brave. It's relatable regardless of the viewer's background. For those of us with chronic diseases, it can be a great friend. Seeing what Kris goes through in pursuit of healing, seeing her cry, seeing her get mad, wrestling with the lack of answers alongside her -- you know you're not alone.

One of my favorite parts of the documentary is when Kris goes back to where she grew up.
If only I could retrace my footsteps, could I find the moment when everything changed? What was the day like? Was it rainy, or was it pretty out? Did I fly too close to the sun? Did I step on too many cracks?
Kris goes to a tunnel through which a stream flows, a place where she used to play.
Maybe it was that I drank the water.  Maybe it was that I used to lower my little pail down on a little piece of twine and I'd get water and pretend it was my kitchen and I drank it. Maybe this is where cancer came from.
These questions of her past -- how did this happen? What did I do wrong? -- sound awfully familiar, like they might be the rhetorical chant of all of us afflicted with some random disease.

Later on, Kris goes to a health institute for several weeks to eat raw and live among others pursuing healing. As we watch her swing on a trapeze -- facing her fear of heights -- she narrates,
In that moment, I realized that all my so-called failures were only in my mind. Cancer wasn't killing me: it was pushing me to live. Maybe my lesson was about patience and acceptance. If I could learn to make peace with my disease, even if it didn't go away, then I could do anything.
It's hard for me to express how the core ideas in this documentary resonate with my experience. I often felt like Kris was drawing her words out of my throat. And it felt so good to hear them in someone else's voice.

I won't pretend to know what it's like to have cancer. Chronic pain is a completely different existence. The women in this documentary are optimistic and astoundingly brave and I wish them all health and longevity and happiness.

But I do think there's much to draw on here for people facing any kind of disease. There's hope and humor and a ton of honest emotion, all of which Kris supplies regularly in her blog. Like Kris says, doing nothing about your disease is disempowering. Thankfully, when you can't do anything else, there's always the human bond.

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