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'Cancer comedy' takes a candid look at mortality

<em>The Big C</em> calls itself a “cancer comedy,” seemingly an oxymoron of a label.

The Big C calls itself a “cancer comedy,” seemingly an oxymoron of a label.


But this tale of how high school teacher Cathy Jamison (the fantastic Laura Linney) reacts to her diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma — mostly in humorous scenes of the uptight 42-year-old’s emotional liberation, like ordering “just desserts and liquor” at a restaurant — is much more a contemplative celebration of how we each choose to live life.


“When I created this show, I thought, 'Who doesn’t need to laugh more than someone who is dealing with cancer in any sort of way?,'” says series executive producer Darlene Hunt. “But it’s also a show about living and not dying. It’s a show for everybody because we are all on borrowed time.”


As for how Cathy chooses to spend the remainder of her days — including not initially telling anyone about her illness — Linney says Cathy is “learning from the mistakes that she makes. She’s learning from the actions that she does that are positive. And more than trying to have a bucket list, I think she’s trying to figure out who she wants to be. What she wants to do is certainly part of it; there’s a lot of fun stuff that she does do, because when you’re dying you’re sort of liberated to do what you want to do. You give yourself permission.”


While The Big C is about a woman with terminal cancer, her impending death isn’t the focus.
“We don’t think in terms of when are we going to kill (Cathy) because the show is much more about the exploration of what she’s going to be doing while she’s alive,” says executive producer Jenny Bicks. “But if it comes time that she goes, she goes. We are not going to be afraid of that.”

 
 
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