“Phalanxifor had introduced a measure of ambiguity to my cancer story, but I was different from Augustus: my final chapter was written upon diagnosis. Gus, like most cancer survivors, lived with uncertainty.”
During their dinner at Oranjee in Chapter 11, Augustus explains to Hazel that he bought a suit and a burial plot after his initial cancer diagnosis, even though his illness often has a high cure rate. Hazel’s emphasis on the difference between his story and her own terminal prognosis highlights just how variable cancer can be. No case is alike, and each individual copes with the consequences of their illness differently. By including this detail, Green challenges the stereotypical image of who a cancer child is and what their journey looks like.
“So here’s this girl missing a fifth of her brain who’s just had a recurrence of the Asshole Tumor, and so she was not, you know, the paragon of stoic cancer-kid heroism.”
Augustus describes the impact that cancer had on his ex-girlfriend, Caroline, to Hazel at the end of Chapter 11, and as he does so, he emphasizes that her suffering took a significant toll on her character. Caroline became rather brutal toward others as cancer continued to attack her brain, an attitude which the typical childhood cancer narrative often glosses over or avoids entirely. Not only does this description reveal just how different Hazel and Caroline are from each other, but it also works to highlight the harsh realities of cancer that notions of heroism often glorify.
“What am I at war with? My cancer. And what is my cancer? My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart are made of me. It is a civil war, Hazel Grace, with a predetermined winner.”
In Chapter 13, Augustus reveals to Hazel that his cancer has returned and offers this image of what cancer really is. He argues that cancer is not an external source of suffering but rather a self-created one, especially since his tumor is just as much a part of his body as anything else. This point creates a deeply personal link between cancer and the individual that stereotypical depictions of sick children often ignore. Rather than the more common image of fighting an outside enemy, Augustus is battling himself.