One of my favorite scenes from television from the last couple years - or from any year - comes from the season 2 premiere of “Louie.” Louis C.K. has just given his older daughter, Lily, a “mango pop” as she does her homework. (It’s essentially a mango disc on a fork.) His younger daughter, Jane, barges into the kitchen afterward and they have this exchange:

Jane: “Can I have a mango pop?”
Louis: “There was only one.”
Jane: “That’s not fair! It’s not fair, Daddy!”
Louis: “What?”
Jane: “Lily got a mango pop and I didn’t get one.”
Louis: “Yup.”
Jane: “That’s not fair!”
Louis: “I don’t even know what that means.”
Jane: “Why does she get one and not me?”
Louis: “Because she’s a separate person from you. You’re never gonna get the same things as other people, it’s never gonna be equal, it’s not gonna happen ever in your life so you may as well learn that now, OK?”
Jane: “Well then I get something else yummy. I get something else.”
Louis: “What do you mean you ‘get’”?
Jane: “I get something else yummy.”
Louis: “Jane, nobody ‘gets’ anything.”
Jane: “She got something. She got a mango pop.”
Louis: “Yeah, that’s… Right now, she’s lucky. And you’re not particularly lucky. Maybe later you’ll be lucky—”
Jane: “But it’s soooo not fair!!”
Louis: “You should only be concerned with what somebody else doesn’t—”
Jane: “It’s not fair.”
Louis: “I’m trying to tell you something right now. You should only ever be concerned with what—”
Jane: “It’s not fair!”
Louis: “Listen. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if they have— to, uh, to make sure you have as… as much as them, you just… you wanna make sure that they have… uh…”
Jane: “Can I have a calcium chocolate?”
Louis: “Yes, you can have a calcium chocolate.”
He hands her two calcium chocolates.
Louis: “Make sure your sister gets one too.” (link to scene here)

I thought about this scene a few times relatively recently, but not during my diagnosis. Not during the scheduling of the chemo, either, in which I was told I’d be spending days and days away from the writing job I love. No, I thought about Louis C.K.’s take on fairness during the end of the first week of chemo. Each chair in chemo is spaced pretty far apart, but I can see the other faces, especially on one of my many walks to the bathroom. And the other faces are, at the very youngest, still twice the age of my own. “27 years old. You’re the youngest one here today,” confirmed a nurse. 

It was momentarily overwhelming to be 27 and need the same treatment as people who, to be frank, seem much closer to the end of their lives than me. Of course, the initial feeling was fear, accompanied by displacement. “I don’t really belong here, not with these people.” Either I shouldn’t have cancer at all, or I should be at some kind of “cool chemo” for twentysomethings, where the nurses wear torn denim and blast Black Keys over the PA. But to believe that, I’d be embracing Jane’s idea of fair and that would only poison my ability to learn from this experience.

Like Jane, though, I do ‘get’ something: special attention. After my mom asked my oncologist about my prognosis, he admitted that I get a lot more attention than the average person going through chemo, because I’m young and curable. For so many others, sitting in the room right as he said this, all the doctors can do is make them as comfortable as possible before the disease does its worst. When the patient’s older, when the body is less strong, when the cancer is more aggressive, they know their opportunities for success are very limited. For me, they’re doing everything they can do. Today, I’m one of the lucky ones. So many of the others in chemo? Right now, they’re not so lucky.

And I need to make a better habit of looking into my neighbors’ bowls. Many of my chemo neighbors, although only in shouting distance, are worth shouting to. I need to take a break from telling my own story so that I can listen to those being told around me. Many of them won’t have the same ending as mine, but they’re still stories of suffering, humor, and inspiration. I have to spend less time inside my own head because I cannot tell my story if I don’t know how to listen to those being told around me.

A few nights ago, my mom and I watched The Impossible, the new movie about the family that survives the 2004 tsunami. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about “Hollywood” taking the story of a Spanish family in a South Asian disaster and making it all about nice blond people, but those complaints entirely miss the point. It’s an incredibly made film about perseverance and Samaritanism and I lost my body weight in tears, I’m not ashamed to say. While I was at work the next day, the real mother and son (Maria and Lucas Belon) were interviewed on The View and my mom recorded it for me. Maria’s reply, when asked why this story needed to be told? “Because by telling our story, we’re able to tell the stories of so many others that day, who otherwise wouldn’t have their story told.” I found that answer refreshingly selfless; our primary responsibility is to others, not ourselves. And as Lucas added later in the interview, when asked if the family is “OK” now: “We all survived. We are all fine. It would be unfair [to others] for us to not all be OK.”

I’m surviving. I’m fine, and I’m only going to get better. I’m being cured. I’ll have rough and raw moments, but I do feel that, yes, it’s ultimately unfair for me to not be OK. But for those who aren’t OK, I should have open arms, open ears and, maybe, some calcium chocolates to share.  

  1. absfractalgaebra reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer
  2. kittensworths reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer and added:
    I was just searching online to find the quote from Louie, because I had been thinking about it. Found it attached to...
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  5. gildedvoice reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer and added:
    Just something to think about
  6. pendoofus reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer
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  8. worldisaswechoosetoviewit reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer and added:
    Always Put Others Before Yourself
  9. wpadmirer reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer
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  12. alltheseroses reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer and added:
    Very thoughtful post about fairness.
  13. iamsunshine78 reblogged this from aaronlaughswithcancer