Professor’s visual coping with cancer continues to gain widespread attention
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A University of Florida journalism professor who documented his journey through cancer in an award-winning film is still gaining praise for his work three years later.
John Kaplan’s “Not As I Pictured: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer’s Journey through Lymphoma,” a 54-minute documentary that was released in 2010 and adapted into a touring photo exhibit, is now on display at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta through Sept. 17.
A review of the exhibit in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading general medical journals, said Kaplan’s work “puts a face to some of the personal issues that we do not always discuss with our patients.”
The review continues: “The highs and lows of his cancer experience are perceptively expressed through his photographs, leaving the viewer with an unforgettable visual memory of his journey through cancer — and of the importance of family and friends in this journey.”
The film began a national education distribution program in 2011 after showings on the Public Broadcasting Service reached more than 100 million American homes and 19 of the top 20 media markets. From there, Kaplan created the photo exhibition, which he has presented to universities and medical professionals across the country.
Kaplan, now 54, first started taking photos to cope with his diagnosis in 2008, when doctors told him that two separate cases of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were swirling through his blood.
The news was devastating. At the time, Kaplan had two young daughters, a wife and a position as a full professor at UF that allowed him to teach his life’s passion.
“And yet, I learned very early in the process that if i could go into remission,” Kaplan said, “my work could help other families going through cancer as well.”
Soon, the pictures took on a different shape when he did the film and shared it with the American Cancer Society, which became of the PBS underwriters.
The film strives to give hope to families struggling with the deadly disease, Kaplan said. It also reinforced the concept of “humanism in medicine,” an area of growing importance in medical education, he said.
Kaplan said his oncologist, James Lynch Jr. of the UF Shands Cancer Center, shared through example that patients should be treated “not as a chart, but as a real person with hopes, expectations as well as fears.”
Kaplan’s focus is now promotion and awareness.
Kaplan has given away 6,700 DVD copies of the film along with an educational guide produced in collaboration with the world’s leading cancer research organization, the American Society of Clincial Oncology, known as the ASCO. He has raised more than $630,000 to support the educational, research and humanitarian program goals of the “Not As I Pictured” film and touring exhibition. He also offers a cancer-coping help at his website in association with ASCO and also the American Cancer Society.
“People tell me their stories,” Kaplan said. I almost feel like a metaphorical bartender, or hairdresser. I take that responsibility very seriously.”
Kaplan believes cancer can be “demystified” in coming generations. He no longer wants the news of a diagnosis to “slice like a knife.” People can beat this illness with the love and support of family and friends, he said.
“I think I’m fortunate,” Kaplan said. “I always believed I could beat the cancer. I knew there was a possibility I wouldn’t, but you have to believe.”
- Zack Peterson