Oct 10, 2011 - Research

“50/50” Shows Us the Human Side of Cancer

With Kim Barnholt

From the minute it became clear that Adam had cancer, he became a statistic, a diagnosis, a “case study”. One of the statistics he made sure to read up on were his chances of surviving. The odds — 50/50 — didn’t seem fair in the context of his life, but his friend Kyle put it into a different perspective: “Dude, if you were a casino game, you’d have the best odds!”

Thus begins Adam’s journey with neurofibrosarcoma, a rare form of spinal cancer. His friends, his family, his girlfriend — even his therapist — try to comfort him with cliches, touting the healing properties of pets, green tea, and physical touching, the latter which feels to Adam like “getting slapped by a sea otter.”

Adam also experiences a side of having cancer that can’t be found in any textbook. His chemo buddies joke that the diagnoses with the most syllables have the worst outcomes. Kyle tries to get him to use his illness to score girls, saying “it makes you different.” And, as everyone keeps telling him “you’re going to be okay,” Adam slowly, helplessly realizes that it’s a distinct possibility that he won’t be.

Through Adam’s struggles, and the struggles of those around him, we learn that cancer is anything but straightforward. It is messy and unpredictable, often ironic, turning life at once surreal and the most real that it — and its alternative — can be. And yes, it is awkward, and it can even be funny. Lost in all the numbers and textbooks and fundraising campaigns is the fact that cancer is a uniquely human experience, different for everyone, and completely incomprehensible until you come face to face with it in yourself or a loved one.

By putting a human face on cancer, “50/50”, a new film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam and Seth Rogen as Kyle, refuses to let it be stereotyped. There is no sugar-coating and no pretensions. The film is simply life at its most fragile and frustrating, alternately hilarious, maddening, heartbreaking, and uplifting.

At 23andMe, we think about cancer a lot. In fact, we’ve dedicated two of our first research initiatives to sarcoma and myeloproliferative neoplasms, both rare forms of cancer. But even with the best intentions we can be too easily distanced from the human side of the conditions we strive to cure.

Watching “50/50” reminded us that behind every research participant is a person with a unique story and unique experiences. Seeing Adam struggle for his life, in terms of his health but also in the overall sense of regaining his humanity and normalcy, was both humbling and inspirational.

This film makes us appreciate the effort required for research participation when life is in chaos. So we thank all of our sarcoma research participants who have chosen to join us in the fight against the disease so far. Together, we can work towards better odds.

50/50” is in theaters now.  Check your local listings for show times.

Learn more about sarcoma at the Sarcoma Foundation of America, Beat Sarcoma, and Sarcoma Alliance.

Learn more about contributing to 23andMe’s Sarcoma research initiative here.

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