Over one hundred million people in the United States alone suffer from some kind of chronic illness. These can occur in various ways, from things as well-known as types of cancer to other kinds of illness much more unheard of such as Fibromyalgia, Endometriosis, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Within this group of people is a surprisingly large population of young people: 60% of those suffering from chronic illnesses in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 64 (Invisible Illness Week).
Quite a depressing statistic, no?
Young people suffering from these illnesses face unique challenges due to their age, as they are constantly bombarded with hopeful platitudes that they are too young to be so sick. "Young people are treated as if their health issues can’t possibly be chronic" (Psychology Today). Chronically ill young people absolutely love to hear things like "you're only 20 - how sick can you be?"
Sarcasm entirely intentional.
Such a persistent denial that anyone so young could be suffering so much diminishes the lives that these young people are leading. Adolescence is a hard enough time without adding layers of disease and medications to the mix. This blindness takes away from them receiving the care that they deserve to help them manage their symptoms and pain. Oftentimes stories of such suffering are simply overlooked by popular media that chooses instead to focus on the strength and hope of happy endings and miracle cures.
Into this void of representation steps John Green's best-selling novel entitled The Fault In Our Stars. Green's story is more than simply the typical young adult romance that it is often lauded as being with the recent release of its film adaptation. The Fault in Our Stars is a story of hope in the places that chronic and terminal illnesses refuse to let it be found. Hazel and Augustus find love in a support group for teenagers who currently or previously have suffered from cancer. Theirs is not a happy story filled with miracles and cures depicting a heroic battle with cancer and glorious victory over death.
Instead, Hazel and Gus find their miracle in the love that they share as they navigate through the twists and turns that cancer throws at them. Hazel is sick and struggles to manage the lung problems that cancer has caused her throughout the duration of the story. She wears a cannula and oxygen tank all the time, garnering stares and questions from inquisitive little children. Augustus, on the other hand, starts the novel seemingly healthy and in remission from osteosarcoma. The only visible sign of his sickness is that the cancer claimed one of his legs before the novel's timeline begins. The reader comes to learn as the story unfolds that Augustus has had a relapse of the osteosarcoma and that this time, the cancer will claim his life. With The Fault In Our Stars, John Green creates a story that shows the difficulties of the reality that chronically ill young people face every day of their lives. While both Green’s protagonists are suffering from terminal cancers, the experiences that they go through reflect the realities of young people throughout the country struggling against sicknesses of all shapes and sizes with no cures. Green states when discussing the creation of the story:
It was also important to me to come to the belief that a short life can still be a meaningful life, that a short life can still be a good and full life.
It is in this way that The Fault in Our Stars shows that there is no glory in cancer stories, that there is no redemption and miracle cure for these, as well as other chronic illnesses. That does not, however, mean that in such a life a person cannot be happy. John Green said in The Night Before Our Stars, an interview aired in select theaters after early premieres of the film, that "living with illness is one identity among many." It is through the struggles of Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac that John Green illustrates how chronically ill young people navigate a different road that can still lead to happiness however long, short, or painful their lives may be. Go see the movie or read the book for a love story sure, but don't forget the real story, a story of hope amidst hell.
- "Chronically Creative." : Invisible Illness Facts and Figures. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014 .
- Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2012. Print.
- "John Green: The Fault in Our Stars Film Is True to the Book." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 03 June 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.
- Miserandino, Christine. "The Spoon Theory." But You Dont Look Sick: Support for Those with Invisible Illness or Chronic Illness. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014.
- "Statistics Archives - Invisible Illness Awareness Week." Invisible Illness Awareness Week RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014.
- "The Extra Burdens Faced by Young People with Chronic Illness."Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014.