Apollo 13 is Not the Fun Tale You Remember

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Lesson from Day 2: I don’t recommend watching Apollo 13 while intense drugs are attacking the biggie tumor in your chest. If you haven’t watched it in years, you might only remember Tom Hanks being the dependable, comforting leader of a tense space mission that a blondie Ed Harris eventually saves. You get some Kevin Bacon as a rookie astronaut action, a lot of loving stares into space from Tom and his wife–all good things, right? The first hour or so is fun to watch; it’s all about the various space missions, how Apollo 13’s crew gets put together, inspirational footage of them getting all suited up. But once things go wrong, there is a huge, seemingly endless amount of time dedicated to the astronauts being sick and miserable. First they’re just cold, then they’re sweaty and cold, then they’re pretty sure that no one knows how to get them home and they’re coughing, cold, and terrified. Not the exciting, fun movie you remember? SAME.

As I watched them, I only became more aware of what was happening in my body. My chest pains always shift around at night depending on what I eat, how tired my body is, how I’m sitting, etc. And my doctor warned me that my body was going to feel even weirder with the immunotherapy. The drug is attacking my tumor hard and fast, causing a lot of “activity” (her words) in my chest. Just shit getting destroyed in my body, no big deal you guys! So last night I started to feel a pain in the far left side of my rib cage, which is where I felt pain the week before I found the mass. It had been a little while, but it wasn’t technically a new pain, which would be cause for concern. And then, as I watched the astronaut not played by Tom Hanks or Kevin Bacon pour with sweat and cry from lack of sleep as Tom Hanks hugged him, I started to feel a tiny pop in my side when I breathed all the way in. Almost like a little lid was coming off something in my ribs. I paused the movie, breathed a bunch, and started to worry.

So I called the 24 hour oncology line, which usually gets me a call back within 15 minutes (this deserves recognition of the incredible privilege of having oncologists to talk to 24/7. Thank you Northwestern). But of course, tonight I get the guy who doesn’t bother answering pages. When Dr. K is on call, I hear back in under 15 minutes like clockwork. Instead it took four calls and two hours to get this sleepy, Southern-accented bro Fellow to call me back. It was a long, exhausting two hours. We finished the movie, which features a bunch more scenes of the astronauts thinking they’re going to die.

By the time he called back, I’d already cycled through the familiar chain of forced-fake calm, fear that something was really wrong, distress that my life right now is mostly made up of wondering if something is wrong, and eventually to an exhausted, resigned, nothing-has-changed-in-two-hours decision that I probably don’t need to go to the hospital.

Finally, Bro Fellow called, and explained that while he has no idea what the pop is (helpful, comforting), there are red blood cells rushing to the tumor that cause inflammation and weird pain like what I’m experiencing. He assured me that the pop couldn’t be signaling a problem with my heart (also helpful, comforting words: “if something was wrong with your heart, you wouldn’t feel it”) or lungs, so unless something gets worse to just try and sleep. Which he had clearly been doing when he was supposed to be calling me. On the plus side, we’d finally hit 1 am when I could take more painkillers.

All this to say: when you’re sick, maybe don’t watch movies about people becoming sick and possibly dying. Maybe this would seem self-evident to many of you, but I was fooled by my love for Tom Hanks. So tonight, we’re watching Castaway instead. JUST KIDDING we’re watching Hidden Figures or more repeats of Grace and Frankie. Funny, smart lady stories only.


  1. Lindsey says

    Those movies give me anxiety! Have you watched Schitts Creek on Netflix? I just finished it and laughed a lot at it. Not though provoking but funny!


  2. Dan Gordon says

    Apollo 13 is terrifying for a while, even without a drug vs. tumor battle under way in your body. Yeep. After Castaway you can move on to Captain Phillips, right? I’m sorry Bro didn’t get back to you quicker. On the other hand it’s so great that there’s a 24-hour oncology line to start with. Here’s to no more new noises!


    • Ha! Captain Phillips is definitely next. And yes, I can’t say enough good things about the Northwestern Cancer Center but that 24-hr line is one of the most incredible, “I can’t believe how lucky I am” parts of it.


  3. Sam K says

    Thanks for sharing this! I hope the popping was just the bad things going away like poof. But also that maybe bad things going away is more silent in the future.

    F that stupid doctor who didn’t call you back and love to Dr K!

    Also, watch out for the Grace and Frankie episodes involving Babe.


  4. Emily says

    Following along back in the U! Kel and I were remarking what a great writer you are (over some fish-fry). She especially loved the “drunk hungry Nora” reflection =P


    • I was craving St. Louis fish fry so badly last week! Very jealous. And so happy to hear that you two are reading–Kelly’s definitely met drunk hungry Nora the hellion!


  5. Judith Smith says

    Let’s see… perhaps Dangerous Beauty, Chicago, Chocolat… or Monsters Inc? You are in our thoughts and prayers. Much love!


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