It's often easy to dismiss fictional characters as just fiction, but, in reality, while they may not exist physically, the notion, the construct of something as simple as a character, can do amazing things. They can lend us strength, they can make us laugh or cry, they can make us hope and fear for the futures. Above all, though, I think, they can inspire us. And there's no more ideal an inspirational character than a superhero.
While Laurel Lance was the target of some fan criticism in Arrow, in my opinion, her arc is one of the most not only realistic, but inspiring, dramatic and brilliantly written the show has ever done and likely ever will do. For those unfamiliar with her in Arrow, Laurel started as an attorney set up in the poor district of Starling City, the Glades, with one intention: to do good and to help the disadvantaged. By Season 3, that wasn't enough anymore, and so she took up a new mantle to help fight for justice outside the law, as a Black Canary.
But in Season 2, Laurel had a pretty rough life. She'd lost her best friend and love, she felt she'd been coerced by a vigilante into doing his will, and she lost her job. As so many people sadly do, she fell into drug use, and while Team Arrow battled larger than life villains, she battled her own: drug addiction, alcoholism, and more. In the end, she came through stronger.
I wrote a defence of Laurel's character in the past, but that all pales in light of how this character has helped a real fighter through hard times.
Now meet Rebecca Johnson.
Rebecca, like many of us, is an Arrow fan. She's 34 years old, attends cons, loves superheroes. But she's faced struggles bigger than many of us can contemplate, and the moment I read her story, I began to wonder if she would allow me to share it here with you. Because what it is, I thought, was an inspiring reminder of how what we see on movies and TV can make us realize what amazing strength we have. Rebecca has that strength, and I'd like to share it with you. But she explains it better than I do. Here's her story, written in September of last year.
"Please allow me the chance to explain why this picture is a big deal to me.
This year, at 33-years-old, I was diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2 positive Breast Cancer. While it’s an aggressive form of Cancer, oddly enough, it’s also one of the more treatable ones. But, in order to get rid of it, I had to go through five months of Chemotherapy (seven cycles, which included FEC), a full unilateral mastectomy, and am currently, getting on-going infusions of Herceptin and halfway through thirty sessions of Radiation.
Chemo wasn’t as bad for me as I imagine it is for most people. I didn’t have too much fatigue, though there were days when it was difficult to stay awake and there were days it was difficult to fall (and stay) asleep. I only had one rough weekend of nausea where I didn’t even want to be around food. I had skin issues on my hands and my fingernails got ridiculously brittle, but they were manageable. My toenails also got into some trouble and I had “minor toe surgery”. There were a few weeks I had to quit walking as exercise because my feet turned red and became sore. And, the worst part of each cycle was getting a Neulasta shot that would leave me in twenty-four (sometimes, more) hours of almost incapacitating bone pain.
While I was still able to physically do things like hit the gym, being emotionally strong was trying. I definitely had nights that I cried, out of frustration and fear. Frustration that my body felt like it was broken. And, fear of not knowing what the future held for me. When those moments came, I felt weak and cowardly.
During Chemo, I kept watching Arrow as I have since the Pilot first aired. One week, an episode called “Birds of Prey” aired and it became one of the things (along with my faith, family, friends, and my doctors) that encouraged and inspired me.
In it, Laurel Lance struggles with wanting to break her sobriety. Laurel confesses to The Canary that she wants to show her sister (who IS The Canary) and herself that she is strong. The Canary responds, “So, show me.” And, Laurel puts the bottle she was holding…down.
I might not have struggled with Alcoholism in 2014, but I could identify with Laurel’s desire to be strong after hitting what feels like rock bottom. Seeing Laurel work to pick herself back up for the rest of the season served as a reminder that even when things suck, they can get better. And, even if you don’t think you are strong, you can be.
I’m happy to say that my pathology report (which included the words “no carcinoma present”) was, as my surgeon referred to it, a “total response” to the Chemotherapy I endured. I recognize that I am blessed that the Cancer is now gone from my body.
When scheduling the surgery to remove the Cancer, I mentioned to my surgeon that I still wanted to go to Dragon Con this year. I go every year and it’s my Happy Place. Because he’s an excellent doctor and valued my quality of life, we scheduled it so I had almost two months of recovery time, he told me to have fun, and I was able to go!
At Dragon Con this weekend, I was able to get a picture with Katie Cassidy and Caity Lotz who play Laurel and her sister, Sara (AKA The Canary). Not only am I an Arrow fan, I’m also a Birds of Prey fan (I’ve read some of the graphic novels, love Black Canary and The Huntress in JLU, and have The WB series on DVD) so this was really exciting for me! Right before the photographer snapped the picture, I asked them if they would do a fighting pose with me. I asked them that because a) Black Canary is known for her combat skills, b) I wanted a fun picture, and c) to show that I was strong like they had both modeled for me on Arrow.
I realize that most people (especially, online) didn’t like Laurel’s storyline on Season 2 of Arrow. They might see her as fragile or pathetic. But, I think it helped define who she was as a character and as a hero. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Robert McKee (a writer, teacher, and filmmaker):
People are drawn to character. Character is defined by struggle. Give someone an easy button and they aren’t interesting. Kick them in the teeth again and again and you find out who the character really is.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to Caity Lotz later, but I did get an autograph from and chat with Katie Cassidy. I used that opportunity to express to her how much Laurel’s tough time had mirrored my own and she told me about how Breast Cancer had affected her family. I really appreciated that she took the time not only to talk to me, but in turn, share her experience.
This was my seventh Dragon Con and it may have been my favorite one yet! And, getting to “fight” alongside the Lance Sisters is one of the reasons why. Looking forward to cheering them both on in Season 3!"
If you're part of the Arrow fanbase, or even if you just follow Stephen Amell, you'll know that we really hate cancer. Everybody does, of course - it's a vile disease - but the support that fans and the cast have poured behind Amell's campaigns to find a cure to this horrible disease always moves me. Rebecca's story just brings that inspiration home for me.
Beyond just Laurel, Rebecca has kept a journal of her experiences, which I highly recommend reading. She's so incredibly open on trying to educate as many people as possible, and not only is she doing that, she's inspiring us. Superheroes play into many parts of her journey, beyond just Black Canary, as you can see here! In this entry, for example, she talks about her very real diagnosis, and, while it seems terrifying, at the same time she grounds this horrible disease into reality - and all of a sudden it seems so much more like it can be defeated. She also recorded her time at Dragoncon, which is well worth the watch - in this bit, she talks about her experiences with Caity Lotz and Katie Cassidy.
Captain Amell himself has seen Rebecca's story and given her an amazing and well deserved thumbs up, along with many other people.
Personally, I hadn't heard her story before today, and it inspired me to share it with all of you. I hope you guys found it as amazing as I did. If you want, you can follow her on Tumblr or Twitter and talk to her directly there. Rebecca's story just reminds me of the power of fiction and superheroes in real life, and - masks or no masks - there are fighters and heroes among us too.