My Life is a Movie — A Wildfire Story
Our hero’s eyes well up. Her hands quiver as her mouth opens to divulge the unexpected. “I have cancer,” she mouths as her voice shakes. As the weight of despair and calamity wave over her matched by the swell of orchestral music we….
Check the chips. Wrap the crew. Edit the scenes together. Release to the masses. Off to the Oscars we go.
My life has always felt like a movie, mostly because my life has mostly been about making movies. I started acting professionally when I was 21-years-old and started producing in my 30’s. I have been transformed into zombies, monsters, a centaur and a gospel singer to name a few, had my head chopped off with an axe, and kissed strangers like they were my one true love. I have worked tirelessly with incredible teams to purposely cause intense car crashes (safely) and gang shootouts. I’ve immigrated show’s stars across borders and figured out ways to house and feed entire film crews on extremely limited budgets. I’ve tackled more logistics and problems than I can count. I married an incredible filmmaker and director; our household is the non-stop creative hub of my dreams. In short, making movies has been the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning until I shut out my stresses each night. To make it in this industry is to continuously push through your projects and always have your next few lined up. Hustle or bust, you’re only as good as your last performance.
This past February, smack dab in the middle of my latest production balancing act, I was suddenly asked to take an afternoon off to report to a doctor’s office in person, only to hear those incredibly surreal words, “I’m so sorry Jennifer, but you have metastatic breast cancer.” Cue the scratch track. Zoom in on her eyes as she takes in those incredibly surreal words… Wait what?! This was an over-the-top dramatic Lifetime movie script, not MY ACTUAL life. How does someone who has hardly experienced any health issues beyond getting sunscreen in her eye, who is 37-years-young and still just getting started on her goals and dreams, who already has a LOT to do this week, suddenly find themselves dealing with a Stage IV Triple Negative MBC diagnosis out of nowhere?
I have always instinctively played the supporting character role. I surround myself with great people and lift them up with encouraging glances and witty banter when dramatic or comedic events occur, both on camera and off. I am the co-worker who will take those tedious tasks off your plate if it will make the working environment more bearable for all. Despite a love for performing, I am shy when it comes to being in the limelight on any personal level. I am not built for all encompassing attention, max-level emotions, literal life-dependent decisions… it’s all too much for me. I love my safe little roles. Supporting characters are vital, they add depth to the story and enhance the main characters experience, advancing the tale for all. But when the supporting characters stakes surpass the expected, the story structure inevitably fails.
So here I find myself now, Leading Lady front and centre in my life story against my own will, the most gripping stakes that could possibly have been presented, far beyond the comfort of my roles and duties. In most scenarios, this would be the act where a bucket list is composed and fulfilled. Where the trip of a lifetime is planned for those remaining months. Where I let go of all of my fears and do the unthinkable: quit my taxing office job and tell my power-tripping boss where to stick it, seek out a requited lover and admit those things I couldn’t in the past, rob a bank just for the rush of it. Move to a rainforest to live with a cancer-curing Shaman by eating nothing but tree fungus. Nothing to lose, so many places to go.
Trust me, I wish we were in a dark theater, with our phones set to silent, drowning in layered butter popcorn, a temporary escape from self- imposed surface stresses. But unfortunately, this is real life. And no conventional, mainstream plot points can actually prepare you for a diagnosis like this or tell you any right way to handle it. No one is promised a tomorrow, sure, but having these sudden uncertainties and timelines blindingly shine directly on you, is absolutely agonizing. My mantra for any unpleasant task or project may be, “the best way out is through,” but, “living my full life,” is a very big project that I am not eager to get through or move on from in any way shape or form.
Close in on our heroine. We hear her take a deep breath. Steady and calm. A small twinkle forms in the corner of her eyes as we zoom out, taking in her determined stance. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I push my career-driven mind to the back and give my heart the driver’s seat. It steers me towards soaking in the real moments, not the movies. It coaxes me to give my energy to what truly fills my cup, instead of my resume. To prioritize lazy Sunday cuddles with my husband and dog rather than application deadlines. To say yes to that road trip with my girlfriends, instead of worrying about potential scheduling conflicts if I get that callback audition. Heartwarming family potlucks over awkward show-face schmooze-y events. To go slow and soak in those sunsets and summer nights.
Surviving this current state of emotional turbulence is about being truly present and focusing on the small, short-term pictures instead of a conclusion for that very big one. I don’t care about getting ahead any longer, I just want to be here, right here right now, and savour the simplest moments of this sweet life I’ve built up to now. Day by day, minute by minute. Before those end credits inevitably roll.
Photo credit to Lauren Vandenbrok at LV Imagery for images used in header photo.
Jennifer Pogue • Actor/producer. Diagnosed at 37. IDC, Stage IV, Triple Negative. Jennifer works for various film and television organizations in Toronto, Canada. She is a co-creator/host of the podcast Women on Screen Out Loud which promotes women in film on all sides of the camera, and also serves as the Industry Series Producer for The Canadian Film Fest. Jen’s world came to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed in Feb 2021, and she has since spent most of her time in the waiting rooms at Princess Margaret Hospital, cuddling her husband Warren and dog Scruffie • @jpo_in_to
This piece has been republished with permission from WILDFIRE Magazine, the “MBC: Stage IV Survivorship” issue, published originally October 9, 2021. More information available at wildfirecommunity.org
WILDFIRE Magazine is the only magazine for young women survivors and fighters of breast cancer under 45 years old. Headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, WILDFIRE is a beautiful, story-based bi-monthly magazine published on different themes relevant to young women survivors, from stage 0 to stage IV. Beautiful and ad-free! Visit wildfirecommunity.org for more info.