A new documentary may change the conversation around cancer.
Meghan O’Hara wants to change the world with her new documentary film, "The C Word." Or, at least, she wants to change the way the world looks at and thinks about cancer.
“The big thing that I would like to do is move the needle on the dialogue and the action around this disease as much as we can,” she said in an interview with CURE.
O’Hara is an accomplished producer and director, who has worked on the documentaries “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Bowling for Columbine” and “Sicko.” While “Sicko,” in tackling the health care and the insurance industry, could have been the inspiration for “The C Word,” directed by O’Hara, the genesis of the film is far more personal.
O’Hara was 37 years old and on top of the world when she was diagnosed with aggressive, stage 3 breast cancer. “I was immediately aware of how much my life was going to change,” said O’Hara. “Nothing else that is going on, that you think is important, is as important anymore.”
The nature of O’Hara’s tumor and cancer meant that she needed to start treatment immediately. She recalled that time in her life, when everyone that she knew seemed to have a book on cancer that they wanted her to read. After one bad experience, she put them all on a shelf. But during a break between chemotherapy and radiation O’Hara picked up "Anticancer: A New Way of Life" by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D. “It was a game changer,” said O’Hara.
The book, and the man who wrote it, would later become the focus of "The C Word." The film lays out the Four Pillars of Anticancer that Servan-Schreiber discussed in the book: nutrition, exercise, stress management and avoidance of toxins. The pillars exist as tools to help develop a science-based, anticancer body, as Servan-Schreiber said in the film.
Servan-Schreiber discovered his cancer by accident. A trained neuroscientist, he got into an MRI machine when a subject failed to show up, and the results showed a tumor in his brain. He was 31 years old. Servan-Schreiber underwent conventional therapy to treat his disease, but wanted to learn more. “Nobody ever told me there was anything I could do,” he said in the documentary, which he filmed prior to his death in 2011 due to recurrence of disease.
“In the public world, even in conversations I would have with doctors, nobody ever talks about how cancer works, why some people get it, what feeds it and what you can do to avoid it,” O’Hara said. According to Servan-Schreiber, there certain lifestyle changes that all people can make to help their body better resist cancer, or, if they already have the disease, help in the fight against it. For example, eating more vegetables and less sugar, focusing on stress reduction and strengthening friendships, as well as staying physically active.
While promoting his ideas, Servan-Schreiber always insisted that they be supplemented with traditional treatment, not replace them. Something that O’Hara agrees with as she explained her film is not claiming that cancer can be cured through healthy living.
“I am not anti-treatment at all,” said O’Hara. “I know that drugs are necessary to save my life.” In her bout with breast cancer, O’Hara underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Even now, she remains on aromatase inhibitors to decrease the likelihood that she’ll have a recurrence.
“I would like to see more people avoid going down that painful path in the first place,” O’Hara said. “I wish the message of prevention was more embraced in our society and in our culture.”
Prevention is an opportunity for patients to take ownership of their health and wellness, explained O’Hara. “It was so empowering for me, as a patient, to know that I was contributing to all the work that all these amazing doctors were doing on my behalf,” she added.
Making the changes that are laid out in the book and documentary aren’t always easy, especially in the Western lifestyle. “This documentary will help to lift the veil and expose all of these forces that are in play,” she said.
O’Hara advises that everyone educate themselves and take that first step. “So quickly, almost instantly, you feel better,” she said. “If something makes you feel better, you want to try it again.”
Now, O’Hara continues what she has learned from Servan-Schreiber’s book and friendship noting that her health is “awesome.” She attributed the line to Servan-Schreiber when she said, “In many ways, I do feel healthier than before cancer ever entered my life.”
O’Hara hopes that “The C Word” will help people to be less afraid of cancer. “Maybe people will realize that this is a preventable disease,” she said.
The C Word is available on DVD and video on demand.
To learn more, visit thecwordmovie.com.