In 2009 I started working on a public service ad for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Truth be told, at the time I was extremely reluctant to get involved. Like most people, the subject of cancer terrified me. I didn’t want to talk about it let alone develop a deeper understanding. As it turned out, the more I learned about the disease the less I was afraid. And when I met the doctors and researchers on the front lines, I became even less afraid. But when I finally met survivors and people personally battling cancer, I found their bravery inspiring. My fear was overcome by understanding but it was the people I met that made me want to do something about it.
We did a great piece of work for the cancer centre. It captured the progress made against the disease. But when it came to the survivors and those deep in their fight, I felt like we needed to tell their whole story, as there was no way a 30-second ad could do them justice. There had to be something more.
A few years later, I got together with my old boss from the project and the idea of doing a documentary came up. Neither of us had ever made a documentary and neither of us knew more about the disease than what we learned through working with The Princess Margaret. What we did know was how we felt about the people we met in our initial endeavour. They made us believe that conquering cancer was possible. We felt all we had to do was turn our camera in their direction, capture their stories and their passion and the viewer would feel the same way we felt when we first met some of the people featured in the film.
I put together a plan, talked to my production company and my colleagues and I approached The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and asked if they would like to come on this journey with us. They were more than happy to, and over the course of a year, we shot interviews with doctors and researchers from around the world and, most importantly, survivors — people from all walks of life who had stared down the disease until it retreated, sometimes over and over again. Screening and sifting through the over 70 hours of footage to weave together our story was no small task. To quote our narrator, Bryan Adams, “The politics and emotion surrounding it are as complicated as the disease itself.” We were surprised by the wash of complimentary and contradictory views and opinions we received from everyone we talked to. But our mission stayed the same: let the survivors tell their story and simply show the audience what these people were up against.
At our initial screenings, I noticed people going into it with the same trepidation I had when I started the PSA. It seems to me that for some people, just talking about the disease somehow gives it power. The opposite is true. The more we share, the more we tackle the subject, the weaker it gets. One of the things I learned while making this film is that we need a stronger unified public movement.
We want people to easily relate to the information delivered in our film. It isn’t meant to be complicated; to come up with all the answers or address all the issues. It is meant to take the complicated problem of cancer and simplify some of the obstacles we face in defeating it. ‘A Day Without Cancer’ is a testament to those fighting their own war on cancer. At the end of it, I hope people come away a little less afraid, a little more understanding, and inspired by those who have conquered cancer in their own lifetimes.