This episode followed three teenagers who have neurofibromytosis (NF), a genetic condition that causes painful tumors to grow throughout the body. Each teen has a different experience with the illness: Philip has large facial tumors that disfigure him and impair his hearing and sight, Amber has particularly large tumors around her hips and leg, and Beckha has tumors in her spine and brain that make walking extremely difficult. For the most part, all three stories follow the chaos narrative form, since NF is an incurable condition. Beckha’s narrative is the strongest example of chaos form. Unlike the other two, she has no other family members with NF and therefore feels more isolated. She has battled against the disease for years with multiple surgeries on her spine and brain, but still has severe pain and trouble walking, which is extremely frustrating for her. Philip also tells a chaos narrative, explaining the social ridicule he gets because of his disfigurement. This particular problem is permanent, since his doctor explains that the facial tumor is too complex to surgically remove. While Amber also knows that her condition will last all her life, part of her story follows a restitution narrative. A plastic surgeon is able to remove a 3 pound tumor from her side, and though it doesn’t cure her condition, Amber sees this as a huge success.
All of these teens are embarrassed by their abnormal appearances in a culture that places a high value on looks. However, for diseases like NF that stem from genetic mutations, our society does not stigmatize the sufferers for contributing to their own disease by personal fault. All of the medical professionals who worked with the kids offered compassionate care, exploring treatment options and discussing them with the families to find the best route for improvement.
By acknowledging their illness, seeking help from doctors, and being excused from some school responsibilities because of time off for surgeries or learning disabilities, all three teens have taken on the sick role.
Sharing their narratives with the True Life TV show might empower them by showing a large audience what obstacles they face. Ongoing conversations about their illness with family and friends maintain a social support system. Openly discussing their symptoms and experience with doctors ensures their best medical treatment. For these reasons, narratives are an important part of coping with and fighting against an illness.