“Bones”, Cancer and Real Life

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A year and a half ago, I lost my husband of 21 years after his two-and-a-half year battle with pancreatic cancer. None of us ever expects this kind of thing to enter their lives, but sometimes it does. And suddenly life is forever changed. I was brought back to that moment of finding out about the cancer while watching the recent “Bones” episode, “Big in the Philippines”, which was written by Keith Foglesong, a frequent writer for the series and also the executive story editor. It was directed by David Boreanaz. Boreanaz has a keen eye for how to present a story and he did a wonderful job directing this particular episode.

[Spoiler alert]
In the story, Wendell Bray (Michael Grant Terry), one of Dr Temperance Brennan’s (Emily Deschanel) interns, had been playing hockey with Special Agent Seeley Booth (Boreanaz). The hockey game allowed two parts of the story to emerge. The first was that the relationship between Booth and Bray had become close enough personally for them to be playing hockey together, which comes into play in later scenes with the two of them. The second is when a collision during the game caused a compound fracture of Bray’s radius. After realizing the break seemed too severe for the impact, Brennan surreptitiously discovers Bray likely has Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer found in children and young adults. The prognosis of this form of cancer is dire with a 10 – 15% rate of survival for 5 years if the cancer has metastasized, although it is higher if it has not yet spread. Progress is being made to fight this cancer. My husband’s cancer survival rate was 3% for 5 years, truly a death sentence. Some say that’s the reason we hear so little about pancreatic cancer; no one survives to champion the cause.

In a poignant scene in an outdoor plaza, Brennan tells Booth about Bray’s condition. Boreanaz captured my own reaction. His posture, the emotions on his face, they mirrored mine, that of the bystander facing the serious illness of a loved one. I find that, when directing himself in a scene, Boreanaz’s portrayal of Booth becomes more natural and sincere, more authentic, and he proved that in this scene. At the end, he uses his artistic eye to show Booth and Brennan sitting on a bench from far away, making them look small and helpless.

Booth, along with Brennan, meets with Bray at their usual eating spot, a nearby diner. The normally stoic Dr Brennan chokes on her tears, finally giving in to her emotions and leaving it to Booth to break the news to Bray. Terry does a good job showing the reaction of Bray, emotions playing across his face, voice cracking. Bray tries to stay analytical, but then quickly exits to deal with the news privately. The end of the scene leaves him just outside the diner, all alone. I was alone when my husband called to tell me his results had come back positive; he was also alone when the call came for him from the oncologist. I wished I could have been with him, and I was glad Bray wasn’t alone when he found out.

When Brennan and Bray are working back in the lab, he says, “We were becoming a good team, weren’t we?”. Later, after seeing the oncologist, Bray goes to Booth’s office and tells him, “I was headed back to work and I thought, ‘What am I doing?’.” I remember this transition in thinking happening with my husband. The future disappears and everything becomes immediate. When Bray wonders out loud if it would be worth it to go through therapy, and says he saw his dad go through it, I really broke down into tears. My husband posed the same question and had watched his father go through the same thing. Booth does what most of us would do, telling Bray, “You can fight this. You have to fight this!”, and I whispered, “No. Don’t tell him that.” And then Bray asks, “Why?”. I was completely drawn in. The actors were so genuine. This scene could not have been any truer.

In the last act, Bray is seen preparing to leave. He looks at his cast, which all his friends have signed, but shakes his head and gets in the car. Then he arrives as the home of Brennan and Booth where he tells them he came over to tell them goodbye, but changed his mind. “Maybe I want to be remembered as someone who fought back.” This was my husband’s decision as well. He decided to stay with me as long as he could, and he was stubborn about it. His original prognosis was 6 to 9 months, double that with chemo and radiation treatment. He stayed with me for 2 years, 7 months and 4 days, through all the sickness and pain. We travelled together, our passion, right up to the end. He tried to keep things “normal”, but had to give up his profession as an emergency relief logistics engineer with the IFRC and MSF. That made him so sad.

I am interested to see how the story of Bray’s cancer plays out. An intern probably has marginal insurance coverage, but Brennan and Booth assure Bray that they will do everything possible to help, so perhaps paying for the prohibitively expensive treatments won’t be an issue. The other part of the story will be Bray’s ability to continue to work, which will be unlikely at some point, and keeping Bray in the story if he is no longer an intern. He will spend time in treatments and then be left sick and weak. He will need a bone transplant and might lose his arm. He will possibly be in and out of the hospital with secondary issues, like infections or internal bleeding brought on by the cancer or the treatments. The cancer might spread. He will more than likely die. It will be a heart-breaking story.

At the end of the show, Booth says one of my favorite “Bones” quotes, “Sometimes you just have to dance to the music that’s playing.” I danced with my husband. I danced with his cancer. Now I’m learning how to dance again on my own.

Without a doubt, this is my favorite “Bones” episode. The story, acting and directing were superb. The main plot, which was also touchingly presented, included the beautiful music of Charlie Worsham. This helped to set the sad tone of the show.

About five months ago a friend introduced me to Buffy and Angel, and I started following Boreanaz. I liked the “Angel” episode “Soul Purpose”, which he directed. I had just finished the “Angel” series in mid-January when I read that the newest “Bones” episode, “Big in the Philippines”, was directed by Boreanaz. My plans did not include getting involved with a TV series still in production, but on a whim, I watched it. It was so moving! I cried and cried.

Even though the story stands on its own, the story arc and characters were out of context for me, and so was David Boreanaz, the actor. I experienced seeing Boreanaz instantly mature from the actor he was at the end of “Angel”, nine years earlier, to the one he is today. He has achieved a remarkable improvement in his acting abilities, although I did see him at his best in this episode since he also directed it. So, over the past five weeks, I watched the whole “Bones” series, trying to get up-to-date before new episodes start again. You may think me a bit insane, but I’m so glad I did. This is the most impressive TV show I have experienced.

I fell in love early in season one when I watched “A Boy in a Bush,” still one of my favorites. Deschanel was so good in this one and it set the tone for what was to come. I’ve loved the roller-coaster ride of love affairs and serial killers. Some shows have left me gasping for breath and sometimes I’ve laughed out loud. Watching “Big in the Philippines” in January left me full of grief and nearly nauseous. Watching it again after seeing all the character development of the first eight seasons allowed me to embrace the characters, and this time it broke my heart.

Six months ago, I would never have believed I could enjoy a television show so much. I am now in the ranks of “Boneheads” eagerly awaiting this coming Monday, March 10, when the new episodes start up after a month-long break.

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4 thoughts on ““Bones”, Cancer and Real Life

  1. Sorry for your loss, Ramona. It’s wonderful to hear how the TV show touched your life. I know it has done the same thing for me in several ways as well.

  2. Nancye

    My 18 year old daughter is a Ewings Sarcoma survivor, and as a fan of this show I am very interested to watch this storyline play out. Thank you for bringing attention to this battle!

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