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The Fault in Our Stars: Not a “Cancer Book”

“Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse if our sun, we will not survive forever” (12).

Recently our staff read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. As the novel involves families coping with cancer, we hoped it would give us greater insight into the lives of people using GiveForward. While that certainly happened, we also arrived at a consensus that we all face uncertainty and should celebrate the everyday experiences life offers.

Cancer is not an illness that plagues some, leaving the rest of us to merely sympathize as passerbys. Cancer often instigates two major realizations: life is fleeting and it’s often unfair. However, all our days are numbered, regardless of whether or not we or a loved one is currently facing a cancer diagnosis.

In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel, an insightful, sarcastic teenager (who happens to have thyroid cancer) falls in love with Augustus, a charming, precocious young man who’s also coping with a cancer diagnosis: osteosarcoma. This romance doesn’t lead to the expected laments on life’s cruelties and bonding over treatment regimens. Instead, Hazel & Gus, as two people in love, grapple with their personal philosophies while basking in the beautiful, unique moments they share as a couple.

Hazel & Gus provide their audience with an understanding that should apply to anyone: those with cancer, those in remission, those with loved ones facing diagnoses, and even those few who’ve managed to avoid cancer’s effects entirely. Life is limited and unpredictable. While this may seem depressing and insurmountable, it also urges us to seize the pockets of amazing scenes we experience daily with friends, relatives, and strangers; shining examples are Hazel & Gus enjoying enchiladas, sipping champagne in Amsterdam, and egging a jerk’s car.

While reading courageous stories of families on GiveForward, I’m guilty of sometimes perceiving them as simply stories. Reading The Fault in Our Stars reminded me that regardless of what we’re going through as individuals, we should remember we share commonalities as humans. Sure, Hazel & Gus gain insights beyond their age brackets as a result of their diagnoses. Sure, these insights bring their audience tears and sympathy. However, the story shouldn’t stop there, and that’s why The Fault in Our Stars is “not a cancer book” (48).

Hazel reflects elegantly on both the limitations and possibilities of life near the end of the novel. Referring to days, she claims: “I want more than I’m likely to get.” Simultaneously, she expresses gratitude for her and Gus’s “little infinity” (260). Hazel exhibits that life, although finite by nature, provides us with endless opportunities within its numbered days.

Whose world will you change?