This past spring, a woman in our church started to experience severe chest pain. After several visits to the doctor and a CT scan, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was immediately operated upon and her ovaries, as well as several other tumors located throughout her abdomen, were removed. The surgeon was unable to reach all of the cancer and chemotherapy was prescribed.
It is now 5 months later. After two surgeries, a short recovery period and a full course of chemo, she is in full remission. She’s back at work teaching 5th graders not just their usual coursework, but about cancer as well (and germs, as her immune system has been suppressed due to the chemo).
This experience has been incredibly hard on their family, as well as on our church family. In September, national Ovarian Cancer month, the women of the church got together and made bookmarks that listed several warning signs of ovarian cancer (pain in the abdomen, a feeling of being bloated, fatigue, weight loss, or problems with urination). The women also made teal ribbons to wear in support of the battle that this family has fought, and so far won.
Wit is a movie about ovarian cancer. Like this gal in our church, the main character’s cancer wasn’t detected until it had progressed well beyond the ovaries. Having progressed so far, the best medical option appears to be a research program that uses a highly potent new form of chemotherapy over an 8 month period.
Vivian Bearing, played beautifully by Emma Thompson, is a scholar. She has devoted her life to poetry, specifically that of John Donne. Her journey through cancer, through treatment, and through hospital life is chronicled poignantly by Bearing’s frequent explanations and asides to the viewer. It is clear that this movie was made, not just to pull at our heart strings, but to educate us about the trials of cancer and cancer treatment as well.
Bearing, a somewhat harsh professor herself in the past, becomes victim to the dehumanizing requirements of being a guinea pig in a university research hospital. The contrast of how Bearing has lived her life in the past -- completely self-assured and needing no one else -- to her situation in the hospital -- at the mercy of the staff, alone and scared and wanting more than anything a little human comfort -- adds an underlying moral to the story. Though Wit doesn’t hold the cathartic Carpe Diem intensity of a movie like Dead Poets Society, it still radiates much of the same message, adding to it a gentle and loving aside concerning the precious nature of life and the respect that should be shown toward all humans.
My only complaint about this movie is that it provided a perfect opportunity to inform women about the early warning signs of ovarian cancer and didn’t use it. Even a block of scrolling text at the end of the movie would have been helpful in encouraging women to get yearly checkups and pointing them toward early stage symptoms to be aware of.
All in all, the movie was stunningly acted, had several witty moments in addition to the harsh realities of life with cancer, and allowed the viewer to become an eyewitness to a story that 1 woman in 50 will likely live out.