At my cancer center–a 500,000-square foot, state-of-the-art building which boasts an estimated 300,000 patients a year–all waiting room television channels are tuned to Home & Garden Television, better known as HGTV.
It does not matter what time of day or which department I am in, the television blissfully blares shows like Home Town, featuring Erin and Ben Napier who “ love to gussy up spaces” or Flip or Flop, with former couple Tarek El Moussa and Christina Anstead; and Love It or List It, featuring Hilary Farr’s renovations and realtor David Visentin’s quirky sense of humor.
I have been going to the same cancer center for over ten years, so I–like hundreds of thousands of others–have been nourished on HGTV’s “comfort food of American television” diet. And like all good comfort food–cheesy, dense, and full of carbs–sometimes I have to say enough is enough.
With over 44 million viewers, it is not surprising that HGTV is popular in hospitals and waiting rooms. Kathleen Finch, the chief programming, content, and brand officer for parent company Scripps Networks Interactive, says, “Every story has a happy ending: Every renovation ends on time and looks amazing, and every contractor is hunky … The only tears on HGTV are the tears of joy when we show a big reveal.”
Ironically, a whole network dedicated to “soothing and inoffensive” programming, which focuses on destruction, reconstruction, and beautification seems perfect for my cancer center’s waiting room televisions. At any point during one of my long waits, I can be soothed by perfectly installed kitchen cabinets that match beautifully geometric backsplash tiles. Yes!
Always deeply thoughtful Roseanne Liberti, a fellow cancer traveler, deems the HGTV phenomenon a cure by distraction. Here’s her description in her words: You get your diagnosis and find yourself at a cancer center for the first time. And HGTV is on every TV. The show’s words subliminally say “welcome to your new home.” Every time you’re there, you watch people fixing up their homes and entertaining you. And it’s all just a distraction so that you don’t see what is going on in this “new home,” and you don’t even stop to think about your real home, where you’d much rather be living. And most definitely, you do not focus on the home you actually live in–your own body. Therefore, HGTV directs your attention away from your body at a time when it couldn’t be more critical to be focusing even more closely on your body. It’s the cure by distraction.
Truth be told, there are times when I cannot watch HGTV and have to leave the designated waiting spaces. A few months ago, while waiting for stereotactic radiation, I stood in a subterranean, brightly-lit, windowless hallway. Here–away from attractive Jonathan and Drew Scott of Property Brothers–I came face to face with real suffering.
Four or five patients, strapped to gurneys and in audible pain, were wheeled by me. Some were covered with sterile white blankets and hooked up to beeping machines. All I could see were their faces. Some headed in for radiation, while others continued down the hallway into unknown spaces. Some were alone; others had a caregiver by their side, holding a hand. I tried to make eye contact with each of them, quietly letting them know that they are seen. What I want for them, just like what I want for myself, is dignity. Dignity in disease, dignity in dying.
Our lives are not neatly scripted and carefully appointed like an HGTV show. Those of us on this journey know the hidden costs of reconstruction; understand that rehabilitation takes time, money, and an enormous amount of physical and spiritual energy; and that it is not so easy to feel beautiful and shiny. We know our lives are messy, and we need lots of help.
Next time I see HGTV on in my infusion waiting room, perhaps it will make me feel better. Maybe I’ll turn more inward and explore what my body is saying in that moment. Regardless, I-like countless others-will continue on, crying tears of joy and pain.