Whatever your opinions are about Deadpool, there is one thing the movie gets unquestionably right — the way it shows what it feels like to have cancer. From Wade Wilson's initial injection of weird blue material, to his cellular transformation into a mutant, and all the hard and horrible decisions that need to be made along the way, Deadpool offers a strange kind of solace to those of us who have survived the torture of cancer.
When I found out I had cancer, I was seated at my kitchen table opening mail. In the mail was a biopsy report. Seeing the word 'malignant' I collapsed into a quasi-catatonic state. I remember looking at the swirls in the design of a fork with a combination of fear, panic, and a kind of desperate nostalgia. I wanted to hold on to that fork; it was solid, pretty and it had been in my family for years.
WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD...
As the character Wade Wilson, played by Ryan Reynolds, studies his girlfriend's face in the doctor's office where he gets the news of his own multiple terminal cancers, I recognized his expression; it was my 'fork look.' And, as anyone who has been affected by a deadly disease knows, Wade is then forced to make choices.
Though Wilson's choices lead him on a nightmarish and sadistic journey only fit for the movies, cancer treatment in real life is, if not similarly hellish, than at least equally bizarre. With no prior knowledge of cancer treatment, the words 'seed localization' suggested to me some kind of efficiency based agriculture. When I learned I needed to have a procedure that involves inserting a small bit of radioactive material into my breast in order to identify the tumor for surgery, I saw how far from the world of farming it was. To me, the idea of radioactive anything brought to mind images of underground lairs of mad scientists where luminous blue test tubes cast unearthly shadows on damp stone and unidentifiable equipment.
In fact, this was just the scene as Wade Wilson descends into his 'treatment plan' which is actually the villain Ajax's evil and twisted ambition to create an army of mutant killers. Thinking only of ridding himself of cancer, Wade watches in horror and disbelief as blue liquid is inserted into his veins, dying them green as they become engorged with the chemical that will upgrade all his cells to mutant status. I also remember watching as blue liquid was shot into my chest, creating a path of winding green color through my veins as it entered my blood stream. The ensuing combination of pain and numbness left me with a panic attack that came flooding back to me as I watched Ryan Reynolds endure an eerily similar fate on the big screen.
Being a cancer patient made me feel that I was no longer part of the natural world. And like Wade, I frequently lay helpless on hospital gurneys while hazardous material was syphoned into me.
When Wilson transforms into his mutated self, he is healed of the cancer, but it leaves him scarred over his entire body. The process of getting Wilson to the point where he can no longer be harmed by the disease is grueling and horrible. Wade's painful metamorphosis into the superhero 'Deadpool,' forces Wilson to become even more of a bitter mercenary than he was before. In my analogous situation, I also felt that I was turned wrong-side-out from the cancer treatment and from the experience itself. I became less tolerant and more antagonistic.
I did not feel the need to be nice all the time. I felt that what I had gone through made me less of a normal person, more of a freak. Having escaped Ajax and now completely rid of cancer, Deadpool feels unlovable due to his extensive scarring and decides not to contact his girlfriend until he can reverse the damage of his wounds.
He is convinced that he is now so unapproachable as to be nearly monstrous to the mainstream world. In regular life, when someone survives cancer, the assumption is that it's all gummy bears and rainbows. Picking up the pieces of cancer, however, I felt a lot more like Deadpool, skulking in a corner of a bar, hiding behind a hoodie, than someone with an enthusiastic new lease on life. The aftermath of cancer, the scars, the physical deformities, are a constant reminder of something I would like only to forget.
In the movie Deadpool, Wade is convinced his disfigurement renders him unacceptable to the love of his life and he adopts a psycho revenge persona, (complete with cool new costume). In my case, I tried hard to get behind images of single-breasted Amazon warrior women, but the feeling of looking wrong still stayed with me.
In the end, Wade learns that there is no cure for the damage his attempted cure for cancer has caused. He is stuck with looking the way he looks, having experienced all that he has experienced.
Seeing Wade Wilson's story on the big screen, played out in all its larger than life Marvel glory, helped me come to terms a little more with my own regular person story of cancer. I am stuck with everything that happened to me; just like Wade Wilson. Deadpool can be described in many ways but, at its heart, it tells of how one person deals with the terrifying and painful crisis of cancer and survives.