It’s a busy time for Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Their latest collaboration on the big screen, a film called Moving On, made its world premiere at TIFF. So far, it’s getting great reviews – and that should come as no surprise.
Tomlin and Fonda are the duo of a lifetime, and with seven seasons of Grace and Frankie under their belt, it sure is nice to see them stepping into new characters, albeit in an older setting as the film takes place in 1972. Against the backdrop of all this activity, it’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago, Fonda took to social media to announce her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis. And while she’s at home undergoing chemotherapy, Tomlin’s speaking up on her behalf at TIFF, calling her friend “indomitable”.
"She's very forthright and talkative about what's going on with her in all respects," Tomlin told People at TIFF. "First thing, she says, 'Don't worry, it's really treatable. It's one of the most treatable forms that you could possibly have, so I'm really lucky in that regard.'"
It's wonderful to hear Jane Fonda be so optimistic about her diagnosis, truly. But I can’t help but feel like there’s a pressure to be bright and cheery in the eyes of one of the scariest things anyone could ever endure. It’s a sentiment echoed by many cancer patients, who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through the work I do outside of writing. I work for a non-profit benefitting one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. And a huge component of that work is conducting past and present patient interviews detailing their experiences with cancer.
So many times, I’ve heard from people who have been touched by cancer that there’s a pressure to be strong, a pressure to be optimistic and a pressure to keep fears at bay. In fact, going through my past interview notes ahead of writing this story, it’s mentioned in almost every interview I’ve conducted.
One thing I, personally, often struggle with, is the verbiage around one’s “fight”. There tends to be a lot of war-related jargon that can really push some people, who perhaps don’t feel like they’re winning the “battle”, to the margins of an already incredibly isolating experience.
Jane Fonda is a powerhouse, no doubt – in her career, in her activism, in just about everything she does. So I can’t help but wonder … how is her diagnosis really impacting her?
In her September 2 message on social media, she pointed out how “treatable” her diagnosis is, citing that 80% of patients survive. This, she said, makes her “feel very lucky.”
But she didn’t let the moment pass without using it to amplify some of the causes of importance to her: access to good quality healthcare and climate change.
“I’m also lucky because I have health insurance and access to the best doctors and treatments. I realize, and it’s painful, that I am privileged in this,” she wrote. “Almost every family in America has had to deal with cancer at one time or another and far too many don’t have access to the quality health care I am receiving and this is not right.”
She went on to talk about how fossil fuels and pesticides can lead to cancer diagnoses, writing, “We also need to be talking much more not just about cures but about causes so we can eliminate them. For example, people need to know that fossil fuels cause cancer. So do pesticides, many of which are fossil fuel-based, like mine.”
She then mentioned that she’s got six months of chemo treatment ahead of her, and promised that her climate activism would go uninterrupted. She touted the importance of community, looked ahead to the midterms and pointed to her intentions to continue building up Fire Drill Fridays, a community devoted to achieving systemic action against climate change, which Lainey wrote about back in 2019 here.
I don’t know whether to be amazed, inspired, or concerned…or maybe it’s OK to have all of these feelings. I hope Miss Fonda knows that not only is she allowed to rest, but that now is quite literally the best time to do so. At the same time, I admire her tenacity. And I think you see that in so many of the people who are experiencing a cancer diagnosis, but also in the people who help give care to them.
I saw it firsthand this past weekend. The foundation I work for had two large-scale annual fundraising events. One was a 20 kilometre walk through downtown Toronto, the other was a smaller, more family-oriented event.
Along the route of the latter, I ran into a family I interviewed for a story a few weeks ago. Their dad was misdiagnosed with stomach ulcers during the height of the pandemic, which led to an aggressive stomach cancer going undetected. By the time they caught it, his condition had worsened so much that he was given three weeks to live.
His family vowed to participate in this event and raised nearly $25,000 for cancer research. And when I saw them along the route, they informed me he died that very morning. I couldn’t believe they still showed up and found the strength to walk.
“We had to,” they said. “We promised him we’d do this.”
I’m not sure who Jane Fonda made a promise to. I’m not sure if it was herself or future generations. But for an almost 85-year-old, she’s got a sense of determination that makes me feel like I’m not doing nearly enough – and that’s the kind of thing that can change the world.
I respect her commitment. I admire her tenacity – even though at a time like this, I just hope that she knows that almost everyone would happily support her in a much-needed break.