The post-treatment stories of cancer survivors are often left untold, but one Columbia student and his crew are trying to change that with a documentary about survivors and how the positivity they feel is often overshadowed by negative media.
Evan Bartlett, a junior film & video major and cancer survivor, is working on “Discovering the Beating Path,” a documentary that took the crew across the country this summer and is now in post-production. Bartlett and Elijah Accola, a fellow cancer survivor and Bartlett’s companion on the trip, met 15 cancer survivors, patients and caregivers.
“We tried to show that there are loving and caring people still out there,” Bartlett said. “We wanted to make [it known] what we meant by putting a positive spin on cancer.”
On July 2, Bartlett and Accola set off from Edwardsville, Ill., and headed west. They couch-surfed in eight states, including Kansas, Colorado, Nevada, California, Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa to connect with other cancer survivors and share stories about life after treatment.
According to Bartlett, who was diagnosed with leukemia at a young age, the project began with a YouTube web series he created to raise awareness about his documentary and encourage people to donate to the project. The series led Accola to connect with him via Facebook, as reported by The Chronicle April 30.
Accola said the trip was therapeutic for him because he was fed up with the way the media negatively portrays cancer, which he said didn’t help his condition.
“For me, I was just about a year cancer-free [at the time], so the trip was about getting support from the cancer survivors,” Accola said.
Bartlett said that to prepare for the trip, he reached out to more than 25 cancer organizations in hopes of gaining their financial support or being put in contact with survivors. He had no luck until he contacted the founder of Imerman Angels, a cancer support group based in Chicago, who connected him with other cancer documentary filmmakers and organizations.
“We didn’t know if we were going to go on the trip for sure until four days before the actual date we were supposed to leave,” Bartlett said
Accola’s father provided them with the camera, a friend of Bartlett’s mother clipped coupons for them to get food, and they were able to arrange places to stay in each state through the website CouchSurfing.org, Bartlett said.
“We ended up not starving, and we had places to stay for a month and a half,” he said.
To check in with followers and keep friends and family updated while on the trip, they recorded web journals, uploaded goofy photos and tweeted a quote from each survivor they met, Bartlett said. He added that he thinks this also helped people get comfortable with the idea of welcoming them into their homes.
According to him, one of their greatest experiences was in Las Vegas with Craig Rodgers, vice president of the Cannabis Research Foundation and survivor of a Stage IV brain tumor.
Rodgers provided a place for Bartlett and Accola to stay during their visit, and they spent a lot of time sharing each other’s stories and doing activities like hiking and skydiving, Rodgers said.
“I gained great respect for those young men,” Rodgers said. “That is why I did everything I could for them.”
Bartlett said he has spent this semester learning how to brand and distribute the documentary. He has been collaborating with four other film majors to edit the film in hopes of premiering it sometime next year.
Bartlett said the road trip completely changed his path in life by motivating him to continue to travel and uplift the cancer community. He said his next goal is to win a CouchSurfing.org contest for a ticket to travel the world so he can reach out to cancer survivors everywhere.
“Our goal is to get this out,” Bartlett said. “People need to hear these stories.”
Visit CouchSurfing.org/contest to help Bartlett win his ticket around the world.