Our Chicago Cancer Examiner column often focuses on developments regarding cancer survival, cancer treatments, and cancer research. Another important sea level change, however, has occurred in the way that people cope with and speak about cancer and the way that society addresses cancer through art, media, celebrities, and entertainment.
It was not too many years ago that the subject of cancer was taboo. People with cancer often were hesitant to discuss the subject even with close friends and family members, much less disclose to the world that they have been diagnosed with cancer. Whether it was a matter of pride or preference, fear of rejection, a sense that illness projects weakness, a simple desire for privacy, or concern over potential discrimination – the old approach too often was to suffer in silence.
The diagnosis of cancer is a life-altering experience. People battling cancer are all around us. Given the mark that cancer leaves on all of us impacted by the disease, the prevalence of cancer (one in two men in America and more than one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime), and improvements in long-term survival meaning that most people diagnosed with cancer will be living with (not just dying from) the disease for many years, it is hardly surprising that the subject of cancer is no longer confined to the medical setting. Cancer is not only part of the dialogue between patients and their health care providers and cancer advocates, the subject figures prominently in many newscasts, is the subject of television show scripts, serves as the topic of books, and appears in the lyrics of songs.
Recent examples include actress Angelina Jolie disclosing that she underwent a double mastectomy in the hopes of avoiding breast cancer, CNN’s Zoraida Sambolin using her diagnosis of breast cancer to help other women, and actor Michael Douglas opining on the cause of his throat cancer. Cancer was the central theme of the Showtime series “The Big C.” And now, cancer – more specifically blood cancer – is coming to a theater right here in the Chicagoland area.
On July 19, World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation’s Ways To Live Forever opens in several theaters across the United States, including at the AMC Loews Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg.
The movie is about Sam, a 12-year old boy interested in UFOs, horror movies, ghosts, and of course girls. This young man is both ordinary and extraordinary. Sam has leukemia (the most common form of cancer in children), and he wants to know everything about the disease that may claim his life. Sam and his buddy, Felix, embark on a “scientific investigation” filled with questions, observations, reflections, and a list of all the things Sam wants to do someday. This modest list includes breaking a world record, flying in a blimp, kissing a girl for the first time, and experiencing life as a teenager. Ways to Live Forever stars Ben Chaplin, Greta Scacchi, and Robbie Kay (of Pirates of the Caribbean movie fame) as Sam.
In adapting Sally Nicholls’ book to the big screen, director Gustavo Ron says he discovered that “Sam becomes a part of us. You want to know about his life, his hopes, and dreams – in fact, his every minute because for him every one of them does count. Not just Sam, but every character in this story has something to show us. The questions the story asks, especially the ‘big’ ones from the kids, are both entertaining and perhaps more importantly, necessary.”
Your Chicago Cancer Examiner has not yet seen the movie and cannot speak to the accuracy of the information it conveys about leukemia. However, watching a young man and his family and friends confront the challenges and fears presented by a diagnosis of blood cancer on the big screen as they go about the business of living will result in important family conversations throughout the weekend. It is another way to draw awareness, attention, and interest in the form of research dollars to the disease in all of its horrible manifestations. Accordingly to World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation, a portion of the box office proceeds will support several children’s hospitals and cancer foundations. They are hoping for high attendance over the opening weekend to keep the movie playing and to bring it to other locations. Chicagoans love the movies and this would be a great time for everyone – particularly people impacted by cancer – to go to the show.