Deadpool is an Amazing Weapon for Dealing with the Stigma of Cancer

Imagine you are twelve years-old again. Except this time, instead of suffering through middle school or having to wait years for Adventure Time to debut, you’re diagnosed with cancer. Now going back to school means distantly becoming “the kid with cancer,” and you may not even live to see all the awesome TV shows you know are coming down the pipe, never mind Adventure Time. Your disease now defines you in the minds of others, and often in your own, and this stigma will, in some ways, follow you even more aggressively than the cancer. How does a twelve year-old even begin to fight it?

Like this: “Hey, did you see Deadpool? It’s like that. Now let’s get some chimi-fuckin-changas.”

[Note: Spoilers for Deadpool below.]

The wacky and appealingly meta Deadpool has a ready appeal to adolescents and teens; readers who are typically discovering new ways to reinvent their world on a minute-by-minute basis. This aspect of his personality by itself makes him an alluring role model for young comic readers, and as our nostalgic culture (and the existence of this very website) proves, we carry our pop culture loves with us for a long, long time.

Deadpool’s chaotic allure isn’t the only appealing thing about the character, though. Ryan Reynolds, the man who has pushed Deadpool firmly into mainstream culture as of this past box office-shattering weekend, has something he’d like to share with us.

Ryan Reynolds ConnorLadies, gentlemen, boys and girls. This is my friend, Connor McGrath. He’s quite possibly the biggest #Deadpool fan on earth. He was also the first person ever to see the Deadpool film. Like Wade Wilson, Connor’s trying to put cancer in his rearview mirror.

About 6 weeks ago, I traveled to Edmonton Alberta to show Connor the movie at his hospital. Of course, the Deadpool was right up his alley because Connor’s the funniest, potty-mouthed Canadian mercenary I’ve ever met.

He’s my friend. I know lots of celebrities jump up and down touting a cause — and maybe I’m no different. But holy frozen shit-slivers, I love this kid. He’s the GREATEST. And he needs your help to get well. I’ve donated to help Connor and I hope you will too.*

Posted by Ryan Reynolds on Friday, February 12, 2016

*Note: You can donate to help pay for Connor’s treatments here. As of the publication of this article (Feb. 18), the fundraising portal is currently closed, as Connor isn’t currently healthy enough to withstand further treatment.

As Reynolds points out, celebs playing superheroes then making hospital visits isn’t a new thing, and my intention isn’t to celebrate Reynold’s actions by highlighting them here. Instead, I’d like to point out one important line from his update:

Of course, the Deadpool was right up his alley because Connor’s the funniest, potty-mouthed Canadian mercenary I’ve ever met.

There. That is the real gift. For a couple hours, Connor got to just be a foul-mouthed kid hanging out with his equally foul-mouthed friend Deadpool, both of them dealing with their cancer through a bit of cartoon violence and some merciless teasing of Blind Al’s cocaine addiction.

In addition to just being straightforwardly fun, the success of the Deadpool movie now means that Connor and kids like him don’t have to face going to school and being “the kid with cancer.” Instead, they can now shorthand the explanation of their disease by bringing up something popular and hilarious. The movie, in fact, repeatedly encourages using Deadpool’s character as a tool for explaining cancer. One of the funniest scenes in the movie, where Deadpool and his bartender friend joke about his appearance, can be used almost literally to describe how cancer treatments make a person feel internally. The movie also provides an example of how life continues after a cancer diagnosis. We don’t see Wade being sick, we just see him living his life normally: drinking, visiting his friends, and pointing out the inconsistency inherent in the premise for Taken 3. Deadpool, a movie about a man with cancer, is refreshingly devoid of pity for those afflicted with cancer, and it encourages that same attitude in its viewers.

And it goes even deeper than that. Deadpool offers tools for describing cancer sickness and treatment, but it also uses its humor to assert Wade’s identity as Deadpool over Wade’s identity as a man suffering from cancer. This struggle over identity and perception is the most frustrating aspect of the social stigma promoted by cancer. A disease you have suddenly becomes the only way people see you, and the struggle to overturn that stigma is constant.

The depiction of Wade’s treatment aggressively tackles this struggle. Just before the treatment begins, Ajax tells Wade that his sense of humor “won’t survive this process.”We can see why, obviously, but what Ajax doesn’t know is that Wade’s sense of humor is an enormous part of his identity. Ajax is essentially saying that cancer will replace this central aspect of Wade’s identity. That the stigma will “win,” that it always wins, and that there’s no point in fighting it.

For a moment, the stigma does win. Wade’s treatment turns him into an angry pile of pizza cheese, stuck in a burning warehouse with a metal pole through his chest. But Wade rallies, he fights, and while fighting he heals. Wade is taken down a few hundred pegs, but he lives to see another day with his humor intact, and in doing so he triumphs over the social stigma of cancer.

And yes, I am fully aware that this means I am re-classifying that brief snippet of him masturbating to a plush unicorn as a triumph of identity.

plush unicorn Deadpool why

By the end of the film, Deadpool comes to terms with who he has become post-cancer and post-treatment. He’s still superficially different, but he’s finally able to let that go in favor of just being who he naturally is: the merc with the mouth. He wins the day, he gets the girl, and he has a new friend by the name of Negasonic Teenage Warhead. For a twelve year-old diagnosed with cancer, Deadpool isn’t just a guide for how to deal with social stigma, it illustrates the awesome life you can have by fighting that stigma. And how amazing is that? Imagine going into a movie just wanting to hear some dick jokes and coming out with a whole new toolkit for talking to your friends and family. For a kid, someone only just learning how to conceptualize the world, this kind of assistance is priceless.

Of course…I’ve just realized that this makes Deadpool a socially responsible movie. How the fuck…?!?

Chris Lough writes about superheroes and fantasy and things on Tor.com. He’s spouty on Twitter and has websites sometimes.

13 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!