Awareness in Prime Time

By: Julie

photo posted on post-gazette.comIn March of 2016 the CBS crime drama NCIS aired an episode entitled Reasonable Doubts. We’re cord cutters (aka, folks who have given up cable) so we didn’t watch this episode until it recently appeared on Netflix, but here’s the gist of what happened: there was some sort of crime that involved something that happened to someone connected to the Navy. The main character, Agent Gibbs, had a gut feeling about what actually happened, but didn’t reveal what he already knew to the team who worked tirelessly to sort it all out, and in the end they solved the case. It was riveting as usual.

What was more interesting to me, however, was the sub-plot. The father of another character meets a homeless woman who is suffering from some sort of mental illness and he becomes obsessed with finding her the care she needs. In the end it turns out that she had once lived a normal and productive life with a loving family, but she slowly slipped into total madness until she was unable to remember her full name and could no longer function in the world. The cause, revealed in the closing moments of the show, was a brain tumor (inoperable and too far progressed for any effective treatment).

Travis, the Agent Gibbs of our family, suspected a brain tumor from the moment the character was introduced. To be fair, however, these days anytime we watch a show where someone has gone a little crazy, Travis generally diagnoses them with a brain tumor.

It was nice to see a spotlight placed on brain cancer in such a prominent platform, and particularly nice to see symptoms other than headaches and seizures portrayed as part of the equation. Here was a woman who was probably just a little out of sorts at first, but over the years she plunged into total madness from the thing that was growing in her head. Perhaps if she’d been aware that something so horrible could have been plaguing her, or if she had a loving friend, family member or partner who knew intuitively that her behavior was so dramatically different and that one logical explanation was that something was seriously wrong, this poor fictional woman could have been diagnosed before it was too late.

Awareness. That’s what we’re fighting for right now. Sure, incorporating brain cancer into the subplot of a prime time show was a great opportunity to raise awareness, despite the fact that when the diagnosis finally came the doctor delivering the news to the father character totally blew his big moment by horribly mispronouncing glioblastoma (seriously, watch it, – season 13, episode 16, time stamp 39:51). Here’s the thing — not only did the fictional characters miss signs and symptoms, ultimately no one on the set was aware enough to catch the mistake either.

As I’ve written previously, raising awareness for brain tumors can be tricky because brain tumors are zebras. An awareness campaign encouraging people to pursue treatments for symptoms that are most often benign would probably only make things difficult for doctors and patients alike. Further, proper pronunciation is hardly a solid platform to build an awareness campaign around. For one, it is a tough word to pronounce so mad props to the actor, Matt Champagne (who is credited by IMBD as “Dr. Glioblastoma”) for a solid effort. Also, I’ve spent a lifetime correcting pronunciation and grammar and trust me: no one likes it, so that campaign would almost certainly fail.

For months we have been trying to come up with big ways to raise awareness and funds for brain cancer. The more we talk with others about Travis’ diagnosis the more we see how great the need is for awareness. Travis’ decision to share his story was predicated on this need, and it fuels my new propensity to write like I’m running out of time (and yes, that’s another Hamilton reference). As we look ahead to May, which is brain cancer awareness month, we decided to stop focusing on big, and instead we’re going to try to do something small. Think pennies, small.

Stay tuned for another blog post that will go up later this week to learn more about Team Wolverine’s Make Change Challenge.

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