Cancer survivors subject of film
When a young person is given a diagnosis of cancer, the standard response isn’t usually, “Thanks, this is going to change my life for the better.”
Yet those who survive often say their diagnosis was like a gift.
“After you manage to survive something like that, you can survive anything,” said Wilfredo Aqueron, a 35-year-old film student who also happens to be a cancer survivor and an active duty soldier in the U.S. Army. “You’re going to get the strength to fight King Kong and Mike Tyson together.”
In 2008, Aqueron was stationed at an Army reserve center in his native Puerto Rico. His girlfriend, Daniella, was pregnant, and Aqueron began to experience what he thought were signs of a sympathy pregnancy. He got motion sickness and felt dizzy, nauseous and sick constantly.
Daniella gave birth to a daughter and took her to visit family members in New Jersey when she was a few weeks old. Aqueron decided to go to the doctor because he wasn’t getting over his sympathy pregnancy. After multiple tests, a CT scan and a magnetic resonance imaging exam, Aqueron got the news.
“I remember the face of the doctor,” Aqueron said. “His face was like, ‘Oh, man, you are screwed.”
Aqueron’s diagnosis was diffuse pontine glioma, which is a tumor that forms in the brain stem. It’s normally seen in small children and usually fatal. Doctors in Puerto Rico sent him to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Walter Reed eventually sent him to John Hopkins Hospital in Maryland. Because his cancer was unusual in a man his age, nobody had any clear answers or treatment plans.
“I started doing my own research,” said Aqueron, who wasn’t encouraged by the grim statistics. Because English is his second language, he wanted to find something that was easy to understand. He looked in vain for a video or documentary about someone who survived and read whatever he could get his hands on.
His doctor at John Hopkins wanted to perform a complicated microsurgery, but first wanted to observe him for three months. During that time, his cancer and his tumor went into remission.
Now, Aqueron is a patient at the National Cancer Institute, where his tumor is monitored and measured several times per year. Doctors have a plan if the tumor should start growing or causing health problems again, but until then, their attitude is to wait and see. Aqueron is a case study.
“It’s like a ticking time bomb,” said Aqueron, who got a tattoo that reads “2008 - 2038” as his way of declaring that he’s going to live 30 more years in spite of the diagnosis.
In between doctor and hospital visits, Aqueron decided to live life to the fullest. His attitude about life changed and he began to take the time to enjoy it all. He married his girlfriend and had two more children and one of his greatest joys is simply playing with his kids.
The Army transferred him to a reserve center in Fort Collins and will eventually give him a medical discharge because he is undeployable in his current condition. While waiting for his discharge, Aqueron enrolled at the Colorado Film School. His goal was to learn the necessary skills to make the kind of documentary about cancer survival that he wanted to see after his initial diagnosis.
“I want to leave this legacy,” Aqueron said. “I want to reach everybody with this movie, I want to give hope.”
Aqueron has written a pre-production script and begun interviewing cancer survivors. He’s hoping to find more survivors to include in the film and is planning a visit to western Colorado in September to film interviews with those who have survived and grown stronger because of their fight.
Although he’s still a student at the film school, this is a personal project rather than a school project and is not endorsed by an official cancer institute or hospital. He’s using his own equipment and money to make the film.
To help raise funds and awareness to complete the project, he has created a website, http://www.thankstomycancer.com. If you’re interested in being part of this movie, either as a cancer survivor or a supporter, sign up on the website or call Aqueron at 970-297-8282.