Candid camera

I had a followup appointment with Nurse Practitioner R today. This happens at the halfway point between CT scans. It is usually a friendly, checking-in type of visit (there is some bloodwork).

Today, I brought a camera person with me. Through a local group I’m part of in Brooklyn, I met Elyse Neiman Seiter, a filmmaker who is preparing to launch something called Mindful Films. She asked if she could make a short film about my cancer experience, and I said yes.

Elyse visited me at home last fall to interview me (I made a few jokes, but also shed some tears, during that interview), and our family was caught on camera doing some routine family stuff (I’m hoping some of my witty repartee with Young J while we prepared chicken cutlets makes it to the final edit). Today, Elyse joined me on my visit to the cancer center. I’m looking forward to seeing the film that results, and seeing this project take off!

It was interesting today to have someone sitting across from me on the train, capturing the ride to my appointment. I was not allowed to use my phone, which is my habitual time-killer, so I noticed things. A new poem up for Poetry in Motion. A new ad campaign. The new, extra stops on the subway now that the Second Avenue line is (at least in part) completed. Two subway workers got on. They assumed Elyse was heading up to the new subway stations to film.

Although I have now probably been to Dr P’s office dozens of times, bringing another person with a camera with me actually did change my perspective a bit. I noticed things in the waiting room that I usually don’t see, namely, countless pamphlets and reading material about melanoma. I typically ignore these because as soon as I open one I’ll see a bulleted list to help you establish just how fucked you are, and guess what? Brain mets are not very good! I know I have managed to beat them back for a good 20 months now, but it’s always so nice to have a reminder that the mere fact I had them at all dooms me.

Once I got in the exam room, and my vitals were taken and I was waiting to see Nurse Practitioner R, Elyse wanted to get some footage of me looking at one of these pamphlets. It was, in fact, something dressed up to look like an actual magazine. So I pretended to be excited to see it (“Ooh! The latest Advanced Melanoma! I’ve been waiting for this one!!”) Between that and a pamphlet for Tafinlar and Mekinist I had picked up in the waiting room, we were in stitches.

My visit was unremarkable ( I scheduled my next CT scan and EKG for next month), so I’ll give you a taste of what the finest in melanoma drug marketing looks like these days.


Then, there are the people sandwiched between the dreaded white parentheses. As if having advanced cancer were not enough, the people in these photos have a constant floating reminder of how their lives or those of their loved ones may eventually turn out to be a footnote… a faint echo… a parenthetical statement.

Fishing and camping is apparently a big draw for people on my meds. The depiction of these activities reminds me of a joke I read years ago. A young boy goes to a store to buy a box of tampons. The clerk says, “Are these for your mom?” And the boy says, “No, but I saw on TV that if I get these, I can go swimming and horseback riding and all kinds of fun things!” I’m waiting for my invitations to fishing and camping expeditions. I’ve been on the meds a while now, so I’m not really sure what is taking so long.

The patient magazine was full of helpful articles, as the cover attests:


You might find it a little confusing to see Jimmy Carter’s name above a face that looks more than a little like George W. Bush’s. It baffles me too. But you should know that Jimmy Carter was the best thing ever to happen to melanoma marketing. Until his highly publicized “cure,” melanoma was fumbling around blindly, without a famous name to attach itself to.


Advanced Melanoma is aware of the zeitgeist of these 20-teens. It knows you thought about following Whole 30 for about 20 minutes on New Year’s Eve, right before you ate some more chocolate. So they helpfully provide a stock photo of a carb-less meal to signal that while your diet may not have caused your melanoma, and while proper nutrition may or may not affect your chances of survival, there is incontrovertible evidence that seeing a photo of grilled chicken and veggies will make you want to change your life. In some way. In any way. Maybe you’ll take a different subway train home!


I loved this stock Caregiver photo. It hits all the right notes. It is obvious no one in this photo is remotely related to one another. And everyone is listening attentively to White Guy talk about his twin brother George’s battle with cancer and just how big the fish were that they caught on their latest outing.

I’ve saved the best for last, of course. On the last page of Advanced Melanoma, this arresting image accompanied a piece about making sure you keep seeing your dermatologist.


Elyse and I had several theories, but I like this one best: We are seeing an incredibly limber and committed melanoma patient do a full backbend and contortion routine. She has bent herself backwards in half and is examining her own butt cheek with a scope, as the caption suggests. (Elyse posited that the dimensions of the rear evoke a Kardashian.) I’d love to hear what you see here — it is richer than a Rorschach blot, allowing for endless interpretation.

Lest you think I was lacking in any seriousness whatsoever today, I did make my usual inquiry as to what the targeted therapies I’m on might have to do with my suddenly (as of this past year) wonky menstrual cycle. I’ve raised the issue before, and been told that nothing indicated it was related. Today, Nurse Practitioner R said there might be a link. The reason the link isn’t well-established is that so few younger (premenopausal) women are on these medications (meaning perhaps that none were part of the trial). I’m lucky that I’m no longer thinking in reproductive terms, but I hope for the sake of women younger than me that the link is eventually identified, and crucial information is given to patients.

Life in this liminal zone of taking meds whose long-term implications are still quite poorly understood can be confusing. You look for whatever helps you. (I choose to laugh.)

2 thoughts on “Candid camera

  1. So is this movie going to be shared with friends? I just love how beautifully you weave humor in your writing. I think along with your meds, your doctors, your family, and your diet, what is helping you the most to go through this journey is your sense of humor and your honesty. Yes! Just choose to laugh.


    1. Thank you, Bindu! At times in my life, my sense of humor has been a liability. That is certainly not the case now! As far as the film, I’ll definitely let you know once it is finished. I’m excited to see it!


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