John Kaplan’s story is all too familiar. And at the same time extraordinary.
Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, was healthy except for what he believed was a minor kidney problem. During the medical tests, it was found he had a potentially fatal case of lymphoma.
That’s the familiar part. Talk to almost any cancer patient and often it’s a routine checkup or medical procedure that ends up detecting cancer.
But that’s where the extraordinary begins.
Kaplan decided to chronicle the battle against his disease using his own camera. He did this without knowing how the story would end. He took thousands of pictures and videos as he told his family, endured the treatments and lived his life.
To end the suspense, chemotherapy has put Kaplan’s cancer into remission. His work has resulted in a 54-minute film called, “Not As I Pictured.” The film has won numerous awards and has been shown several times on public broadcasting stations. I saw the film at the recent Illinois Press Association convention. It’s recommended viewing for anyone, but particularly those touched by cancer.
Which is most of us. As Kaplan pointed out, one in three women and one in two men will be treated for cancer during their lifetime.
I’m often reluctant to read or view stories about cancer. My youngest, brother, Steve, died eight years ago from brain cancer. I had my own cancer bout two years ago, although I’m happy to report that I’ve been cancer free since completing radiation treatments.
But I find many cancer stories too sentimental and too cliched.
In fact, I nearly talked myself out of seeing Kaplan’s film.
The film is not sentimental, and it’s not difficult to watch. It helps that Kaplan introduces the film in person, so you know the outcome. The film is a realistic look at what it means to have cancer. Yes, it’s a struggle. But there are also plenty of funny and realistic moments. Viewers see Kaplan struggle with chemotherapy, but also approach the trials and tribulations with humor and honor. He admits that the ordeal may have been harder on his wife, who was the primary caregiver.
Kaplan is giving away 10,000 DVDs of the film to people touched by cancer, and he’s spent a lot of time educating others about cancer. His message is a simple one, but important.
He wants people to realize that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. In fact, because of medical advances in treatment, there are many cancers that Kaplan says have become more like chronic conditions than fatal diseases.
His ultimate hope is that his two children, who have yet to attend elementary school, will never think of a cancer diagnosis as most certainly fatal.
Although cancer can be devastating, Kaplan’s vision is certainly becoming part of the truth. Anyone can see that at the annual Cancer Survivors dinner that was recently held and at the Survivor Laps that are the part of every Relay for Life. The war against cancer isn’t over, by any means. But there is solid evidence that the tide is shifting.
Kaplan’s film is readily available, and you can read more about it at www. notasipictured.org. If you or your loved ones have been touched by cancer, I’d suggest you give it a view.