Friday, April 11, 2008


The Healing Project (THP) wishes to alert its community to the upcoming presentation of THE TRUTH ABOUT CANCER on PBS. The Healing Project was founded by a breast cancer survivor, Debra Lachance. Our Board of Directors includes scientist H. Michael Shepard, PhD who led the Herceptin discovery team at Genentech. Dr. Shepard continues to develop novel medications for treating a range of diseases including Breast Cancer as president and CSO of Receptor BioLogix. Stephanie F. Bernik, MD, FACS is a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Bernik is Chief of Breast Surgery for the comprehensive breast program at St. Vincent's Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City. THP is painfully aware of how far we need to go in developing treatments and cures for a range of cancers, especially metastatic cancers. Take some time and watch this film as it presents the realities of what many patients and families are confronting.

About the Film
What is the truth about cancer? Is it the same deadly killer it was 30 years ago - or are we making progress? Find out through the poignant stories of patients battling the disease. Written, produced, and directed by award-winning filmmaker Linda Garmon, The Truth About Cancer (Web Site) premieres nationally on PBS Wednesday, April 16, at 9:00pm ET (check local listings). Comprised of a 90-minute documentary followed by a 30-minute panel discussion, the two-hour broadcast event takes a deep look inside the cancer field gauging how far we have come in this decades-old war and asking, "Why does anyone still die of cancer?"

Part science, part personal catharsis, part character-driven storytelling, The Truth About Cancer is narrated by Garmon, who tells the moving story of her husband's battle with cancer. Over the course of the film, Garmon returns to the same Boston-area hospitals at which her husband was treated, and exposes startling truths about survival rates of metastisized cancers, and the limited success of drugs and clinical trials. Interwoven throughout are the stories of three additional cancer patients, and their families and doctors, as they navigate the deeply personal decisions surrounding the disease. The documentary also follows several medical professionals working to promote screening, research the latest developments in cancer treatment, and help patients and their families live with a cancer diagnosis.

"This film makes it clear that it's very much a part of American culture to believe that if you fight hard enough, you can beat cancer. But when it comes to having metastatic cancer, your survival depends on the biology of your cancer cells, and whether they are susceptible to state-of-the-art treatment," says Garmon. "In sharing my husband's story and the stories of other patients, I hope to shed light on this important truth." The Truth About Cancer is the third installment of PBS's Take One Step—a campaign offering primetime programming and outreach tools to help people take the first step towards better health. Following the 90-minute documentary is a 30-minute panel discussion entitled Take One Step: A Conversation About Cancer with Linda Ellerbee. News journalist and breast cancer survivor Linda Ellerbee moderates the dialogue featuring a panel of doctors, all of whom are cancer survivors themselves. Having sat on both sides of a cancer diagnosis, the panel shares their unique perspectives, offering both personal and professional observations on how to handle a cancer diagnosis, what to say to loved ones, how to advocate for yourself, and how to best live your life, with cancer. Panelists include U.S. News and World Report health editor Dr. Bernadine Healy; breast cancer surgeon and Breast Cancer Research stamp mastermind Dr. Ernie Bodai; neurologist and leading palliative care expert Dr. Richard Payne; and counseling psychologist Dr. Paul Brenner.

Resources for Cancer Patients and Caregivers:


Mimi Rothschild said...

The documentary "The Truth About Cancer" is an irresponsible, harmful betrayal of cancer patients throughout the world. While I feel compassion for Linda Garmon's terrible outcome and support her right to use filmmaking as a therapy for her grief, it is simply morally reprehensible for her and for PBS, WGBH, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation to support this untrue and misleading piece of propaganda. Please consider the withdrawal of this documentary to avoid any further irreperable harm and immeasurable damages from incurring. At the very least, the title of the film should

be changed to "My Experience with Cancer" or "One Person's Truth About Cancer." To characterize this grief stricken film as "The Truth About Cancer" is unconscionable.

The film allegedly cites facts and figures that are supposed to give the viewer the answer to "What is the truth about cancer?" The title states unequivocally that the film contains "the truth" about cancer. This is misleading and deceptive because the film does not contain the whole story about cancer by any stretch of the imagination. This film contains several people's sad experiences with cancer, but it is sorely lacking any absolute truths or even universally recognizable facts about cancer.

The PBS website relays the producers thoughts by stating "This film makes it clear that it's very much a part of American culture to believe that if you fight hard enough, you can beat cancer. But when it comes to having metastatic cancer, your survival depends on the biology of your cancer cells, and whether they are susceptible to state-of-the-art treatment," says Garmon. "In sharing my husband's story and the stories of other patients, I hope to shed light on this important truth."

What truth? That her husband tried only the traditional medical treatments and that he died of cancer. While I am very sorry for her tremendous loss and for the death of Jamie in the film, their experience does not contain any truths that could be applied to anyone else. It was their experience.

Is the truth perpetrated in this film that if all your treatment consists of is surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and you have pancreatic cancer that you will probably die? Aside from the fact that this is totally not true for everyone, by stating it as a truth, it depletes us of one of the most important healers of all time, which is hope.

It was clearly true for Linda Garmon's husband that his cancer was not beaten. However, as far as the audience knows, he only pursued one form of treatment out of the many alternatives that are available. To ignore the multiple strategies that are successfully employed to defeat cancer in a film that is entitled "The Truth About Cancer" is irresponsible and a betrayal to the viewer who has been set up to believe there is some truth contain therein by the title. The film's silence regarding any scientifically proven effective ways of treating the diseased body is misleading by omission. Dr. Ryan states in the film that there are "only three ways we have to fight, chemotherapy and radiation." This is deplorably untrue.

Many cancer survivors attribute diet, exercise, nutritional supplements, herbs, prayer, acupuncture, laughter therapy, and a host of holistic treatments to their total remission of cancer. In a film that claims to contain "the truth about cancer", isn't it a woeful betrayal to all of those patients and families who are fighting cancer to be told they have only three choices for treatment, when that is simply and unequivocally untrue?

The film, The Truth About Cancer" should not be distributed by a trusted and respected broadcaster like PBS and WGBH. The audience has come to depend on the accuracy and reliability of the programs you choose to show us. This film is not only inaccurate but it is damaging because it shatters hope uncessarily. To shatter hope and to present only one approach to cancer treatment in a film called "The Truth About Cancer" betrays the 15,000 people diagnosed daily with some form of cancer. We expect more from PBS.

Mimi Rothschild

Chief Executive Office, Learning By Grace, Inc.

Editor said...

While I cannot speak for PBS or Linda Garmon, the choice of the title “The Truth About Cancer” was unfortunate. On the other hand, the patients in this film experience with metastatic cancer are in no way exceptional. Metastatic cancer causes the deaths of most patients. Less than 1% of the National Cancer Institutes budget is applied to metastatic cancer. Far too few people participate in clinical trials necessary to develop new treatments and interventions.

It would have been more useful to apply a higher scientific standard in the broadcast, but I feel you would have been equally disappointed. I have worked for more than a decade with oncologists. As a group, they are some of the finest clinicians and scientists I have encountered. They are curious, open-minded and caring. It is a profession that requires an emotional stamina that goes beyond most humans.

I am also concerned with the concept that there are many alternative treatments. Too much is made of freak singular outcomes, a small percentage of cancer patients have spontaneously remissions that are not explicable scientifically but are explicable statistically. Anecdotal stories offer hope without scientific rigor often results in a diversion of resources from programs that could truly benefit patients. I must agree with Dr. Ryan that we currently have a limited understanding of cancer and the arsenal we can apply to treatment is relatively crude.

The Healing Project publishes the Voices of Series that certainly offers a range of perspectives regarding living with cancer. We also support better nutrition and exercise to both avoid getting cancer and to recover from treatment. Nonetheless, THP strongly advocates distributing accurate and scientifically robust information about the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Ms. Garmon's film, while far from perfect, asks relevant questions that cast light on metastatic cancers and calls into question current funding of cancer. Most importantly, it ask America to consider how far we have to go to in treating the broad range of cancers.