Dr. Amelia Shepherd’s lecture in the Feb. 26 episode of Grey’s Anatomy has forever changed the way I think about cancerous tumours, and this is at least in part a result of the point-of-view moves she executes in describing the massive tumour imbedded in the brain of colleague Dr. Nicole Herman.
Amelia projects an image of the tumor up on a screen, and says, “Look at its size. Look at the way it invades healthy tissue. Look at its vasculature. It is blood. . .and tissue. . .and flesh. It’s growing, adapting to its environment, struggling to survive. . .to stay alive. It is alive. We don’t like to think of it that way, but it’s nested in the womb of a human brain, feeding on its host, growing and fighting for life. . .almost like a fetus. Let’s scratch that. Let’s just, for science and giggles, say ‘exactly like a fetus’ because like a healthy fetus, it is thriving. You know, there are even some types of tumours that grow teeth. . .hair. . .a stray eye. . . .Have I repulsed you? Gross, right? I mean, that is a problem. Nobody wants something that nasty in their head.”
In this section of the lecture, Amelia transforms her listeners’ perception of the tumour. Her starting point is their current understanding of the tumour–a mere mass of blood, tissue and flesh–but she leads them from there into considering it as an actually living entity, something ‘exactly like a fetus.’
What she is suggesting undoubtedly leads the whole of her audience to an entirely new perception of the tumour, but their perspective of the tumour remains the same. Before, they considered it an object to observe, and now, they still consider it an object to observe; throughout this opening part of her address, the audience has been put in the position of objective observers. That, however, changes in what follows:
“But I’d like you, for one moment, to consider the idea that to the tumour, we are the problem. We are the invader. We are the danger. To the tumour, we are the cancer. And the tumour? Well, the tumour sees itself as a cute, sweet, fat-cheeked baby just trying to make its way into the world, and we want to stop it. . .destroy it. . .tear it from its happy little home like barbarians. To the tumour, we are soulless, murderous monsters. . . .”
Here, Amelia invites her listeners to relinquish their positions as observers of the tumour, and adopt the point of view of the tumour itself. They are invited to consider what life as the tumour is like, and how the introduction of medical professionals impacts its life. Here, the members of the audience are invited into the position of subjective experiencers. To put it another way, they are led to view Amelia’s address from the point of view of a malignant tumour, a point-of-view move which I believe is a first in T.V. history.