'50/50': Humor is powerful weapon in coping with cancer

Salisbury woman finds laughter is strong medicine
October 10, 2011
Eva Paxton is the founder of The Salisbury Rollergirls and can be found there under the moniker Buster Skull. SOURCE SUBMITTED

Anyone who has been affected by cancer can attest that there is absolutely nothing funny about the disease. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

However, in coping with the illness, humor can be a powerful weapon.

Finding laughs through the pain is what “50/50” attempts to do, as it tells the tale of Adam (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young man faced with the diagnosis of a rare, aggressive form of the disease. We follow Adam’s ride through the pinball machine that is his life post-diagnosis: bouncing from hospital to therapy to home, trying to maintain some semblance of order.

The film is based on the life of a friend of co-star/co-producer Seth Rogan, who plays Adam’s best bud Kyle. Ever the party boy, Kyle also struggles, trying to keep him and his friend positive while also learning some of life’s more somber lessons. After all, they are in life’s prime, right? They should not have to face such weighty matters at such a young age.

But cancer doesn’t seem to give two shakes about age. Just ask survivor Eva Paxton, of Salisbury, Md. She was diagnosed with lymphoma at age 19, and said that viewing the film “50/50” had been on her agenda for quite some time.

While unequivocally stating that she loved it, Paxton added that she thought the film’s portrayal of the medical community in the film left much to be desired. “I’m sorry, but [Adam’s] doctor sucked,” she said, referring to the rather chilly manner in which he delivered the prognosis to Adam. “In oncology, you’re hard-pressed to find a doctor like that. They live this and have a much better way at dealing with the news,” she said. “I cannot say enough nice things about mine.

“There was also a surprising lack of nurses in the picture,” she added. “In my movie, they would have had a large supporting role.”

When Adam first receives the news, the film’s camera and sound begin to blur, relating the sucker-punch the actual declaration of the disease can have. But Paxton said her doctors and nurses helped walk her through everything so there was little confusion. “Of course, I did the same thing as Adam did – stocked up on a bunch a books and hit Web M.D. I think everyone does that. I was well informed before my next visit with my doctors.”

“50/50” is equally a buddy movie, demonstrating the ripples felt through Adam’s relationships, including his mother (played by Angelica Houston), his girlfriend (played by Bryce Dallas Howard), his therapist (played by Anna Kendricks), and his best pal Kyle (Rogan).

Kyle simultaneously serves as Adam’s buoy and his anchor. He lifts spirits the best way he can – by capitalizing on the disease to score chicks and medicinal weed – and stabilizes him by ejecting people from his life who are not helping the young man navigate the sea of doctor visits, chemotherapy, therapy and the like. But in one of the film’s more revelatory, touching scenes, we also witness just how devoted Kyle is to his pal. Paxton said she is fortunate enough to have a friend like Kyle in her own life. “My friend Darah is my Seth Rogan,” she said. “It made me feel really lucky in watching this that I have someone like her in my life.”

Paxton said she related to the scenes in which Kyle attempted to use the illness as a bargaining chip. “If we were waiting a particularly long time for our food at a restaurant, my boyfriend would say, ‘Can we get some service? She has cancer,’” Paxton said with a laugh. “If someone said, ‘Man, my allergies are bothering me,’ they would say, “Yeah, her cancer’s bothering her.’”

Paxton said her friends, boyfriend and family were pivotal through her ordeal, and her cadre of support was much different from that of Adam, who had little beyond Kyle and his mom. "As a character, he was kind of remote, which most likely accounted for his lack of friends, but I liked that he was called out (by his therapist) when he was acting like a jerk," Paxton said. She added that Gordon-Levitt was quite convincing in the lead role. "There were a lot of subtleties in his performance that made it excellent," she said. “He looked tired, but I liked the fact that he wasn’t just sitting around.”

The best part of “50/50” is there are no epiphanies, no “embracing life to its fullest” musical montage moments in its decidedly unsentimental script. It’s about just trying to sustain a sense of normalcy when faced with something that can make one feel anything but. And the film is all the better for it.

Eva Paxton is the founder of The Salisbury Rollergirls and can be found there under the moniker Buster Skull. Though since she has undergone her bout with “the Big C,” she has also taken on the moniker Chemo Sabe. You can follow them on Facebook at