When it became clear that my cousin David would not survive the latest relapse of the brain cancer he had been living with for 19 years, my next step became obvious to me: I would help continue his work, establish his legacy, and finish making the film that he had started on cancer prevention. I would become an indie documentary producer. Just like that!
David is known to the public as Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, a physician and neuroscientist who, after having been diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 31, took his recovery into his own hands and extended his life against all odds. After his first relapse, his doctors told him that there was nothing that he could do to help fight the disease, but that they would watch him closely and catch it early next time. David grew frustrated with the helplessness that was being promoted by his physicians. He took action.
As a scientist, he explored whether there were other ways to help fight the disease that plagued him, and, sure enough, found some very compelling scientific research that showed that the body has the ability to harness its natural defenses to fight back. Given that we all have cancer cells in our bodies, but only one in four of us develops cancer, our body clearly has the resources to hinder the development of cancer cells. Could we influence that process? The answer he found is yes.
His findings, and his personal story, were chronicled in Anticancer: a New Way of Life. The book sold millions of copies around the world, and became the roadmap for many cancer patients who wanted to take an active part in their recovery. David encouraged patients to own their disease, and empowered them to complement their conventional treatments with an integrative approach, which he called the Anticancer lifestyle: diet, exercise, stress management, and social connectedness.
As a breast cancer survivor myself, I have been applying the four tenets of the Anticancer lifestyle. I exercise multiple times a week, I eat a mostly plant based diet, I have reduced my alcohol consumption, and I meditate daily. I cherish my myriad of relatives and friends, with whom I try to stay connected in spite of a busy life as a wife to a wonderful man, a mother of three beautiful and demanding children, a business consultant to NGOs and nonprofits, and, now, a film producer. Like so many women of my age, I wear multiple hats, often stacked high on top of one another. I happen to love hats. I collect them and display them in my front hallway, like beautiful and colorful works of art. So, whether physical or virtual, I wear one or more hats daily.
My mother is also a breast cancer survivor. She had pre-menopausal cancer, twice. Luckily, she survived. She always says to me that her disease allowed her to connect with what was the most important to her, and to say no to the rest. After getting well, she no longer participated in activities that bored her, or took part in obligatory social conventions. She felt that she had been freed, and was able to concentrate on things, and people, who most mattered to her. As her daughter, I have gone through a similar journey, albeit not as drastic as hers. Cancer has taught me to pace myself. I am more careful in choosing my causes and engagements, valuing purpose, relationships, and meaning over a return on investment.
Which brings me to the topic at hand: a documentary film project. What did I ever get myself into?
To be continued. Next Installment: My crash course in documentary filmmaking.