"Cake": A Painful Slice of Life

January 8, 2015

I had the distinct honor and thrill of representing the Arthritis Foundation in Los Angeles, CA, at a screening of the new movie, "Cake," highlighting the devastating effects of chronic pain – something everyone who lives with arthritis is all too familiar with.

Following that screening I participated in an important panel discussion about chronic pain that included "Cake" star Jennifer Aniston, who portrays Claire Simmons, the central character in "Cake," living in chronic pain from a debilitating car accident; Stacy Courtney, a friend and colleague of Jennifer’s and stunt coordinator for "Cake," who knows firsthand about chronic pain from a real-life accident and helped inspire Jennifer’s performance; and Dr. Bruce Hensel, chief health, medical and science editor/correspondent at NBC4 (KNBC-TV) Los Angeles/Southern California. The panel discussion was moderated by John Horn, veteran Los Angeles Times entertainment journalist and host of “The Frame” arts and entertainment program on Southern California public radio station KPCC.

We talked about the movie and the storyline but, most importantly, we had a serious and frank discussion about the issue of chronic pain and its effects. People who suffer from arthritis live with constant pain, so I appreciate the unique opportunity to help focus attention on such a critical problem.

I was deeply moved by Jennifer’s riveting portrayal of the journey of a woman suffering from chronic pain. In the film, Claire pops prescription pills and is in a pain support group. When one of her fellow group members commits suicide, Claire begins searching for human connection and self-forgiveness to help her heal for good. About a third of arthritis-diagnosed patients take a prescription analgesic.

Jennifer Aniston's portrayal of a woman suffering with severe pain is extraordinary. "Cake" really acknowledges the issues of living with chronic pain and shows how chronic pain can lead to feelings of isolation and ultimately depression. But this movie also carries a message of hope and triumph and demonstrates that it is possible to find personal YESes.

Further, Jennifer was warm and genuine and demonstrated real compassion for people with arthritis who live with pain every day, and that is important because chronic pain from arthritis and other physical disorders – and its consequences – are a hidden epidemic in the United States, seriously limiting our productivity as a nation, as well as our economic progress and living everyday life. On a more personal note, people with arthritis and with chronic pain have to say NO too many times. NO to living their life to the fullest and to doing the things they enjoy.

Arthritis and related conditions are a common source of chronic pain. More than one in five Americans, including 300,000 children, has arthritis. Multiply that by family members and caregivers, and the number of people affected by arthritis and the chronic pain associated with it is staggering.

The Arthritis Foundation is committed to standing alongside people with arthritis to help them find their own personal YES. We’re expanding our pain management resources and tools; we’re activating a new scientific strategy to accelerate diagnostics and new treatments; our advocacy and access initiatives are giving people a stronger voice; and we’re leading the way in creating communities and connecting people with arthritis and rheumatic conditions for mutual help and support.

I’m grateful that awareness is being raised about the problem of chronic pain, whether from arthritis or other causes, through mainstream efforts such as this thought-provoking movie. It’s so important to bring people’s attention to chronic pain as a major obstacle to quality of life.

You can learn more about the film, which opens nationwide on Jan. 23, 2015, at www.arthritis.org/cake.

-Ann Palmer, Arthritis Foundation President & CEO