‘Discovering the Beating Path,’ road trip of hope

By Sophia Coleman

Surviving cancer is an accomplishment in itself, but that was only half the battle for one Columbia student. For him, the struggle is making others realize that life after treatment is a beautiful one.

Evan Bartlett, 21, a film & video major at Columbia, has gathered a crew, including fellow film major Max Skelton, 20, and cancer survivor Elijah Accola, 20, to create a documentary called “Discovering the Beating Path” that will chronicle their road trip to California, where they will interview others affected by cancer.

“Most of the documentaries in the past are done of people who have cancer currently or are trying to survive it,” Bartlett said. “There has been nothing done on those who are living as a cancer survivor.”

Bartlett started contacting cancer survivors earlier this year and has already spoken to 100 people. During the process, he realized that most of those responding were on the West Coast.

“That’s sort of how it fell in place,” Bartlett said. “Chicago, Wisconsin, Colorado and other states in the West have organizations that have all reached out to help, so that’s why we are going west.”

He was diagnosed with leukemia when he was four months old. The radiation and other forms of treatment he received as a baby ultimately stunted his growth. Doctors said the trauma also caused him to have a slight learning disability that put him in special education classes until eighth grade. Bartlett said he constantly told his teachers and mother that he didn’t belong there, and in high school he was placed in regular classes.

According to him, the limitations he is most concerned with are short-term memory loss and the possibility that he might not be able to have children.

Now cancer-free for 19 years, Bartlett has created a Web series called “I Survived Cancer” to prove to cancer treatment organizations and camps that he was serious about making a documentary and gain their support. So far, he has interviewed four people who have gone through cancer treatment.

Accola saw the series and was immediately interested. Little did he know that Bartlett had actually grown up 10 minutes away from him and he, too, was a

cancer survivor.

“I thought of us, as cancer survivors, to be considered ‘off the beaten path,’ and I brought that up to Evan,” Accola said of the documentary’s title. “He came up with ‘Discovering the Beating Path’ because we are kind of off the beaten path right now, but we are trying to find that paved road.”

Accola was diagnosed with a Stage 2 malignant brain tumor in 2010. Before he had it removed from his precentral cortex, the part of the brain that  manages impulse control, short-term memory and personality, he said the tumor affected his personality and made him see the world “in a weird way.” After it was removed, he went to therapy sessions to develop skills to recover from short-term memory loss. He still goes in for MRIs every three to six months because there is a possibility the tumor could come back. But as of March 21, he has been cancer free for a year.

“I am going on this trip as a cancer survivor to spread hope to other people and show that even though I am still dealing with the repercussions of having cancer, I can still have fun,” Accola said. “We want to show that you can beat it. Even though you are left with limitations, you can get through it. It’s not a death sentence.”

Catherine Galligan, director of patient navigation services for the American Cancer Society’s Illinois Division, said creating this documentary could help other young cancer patients cope.

“I think it always helps to have people who have been through the disease and treatment to stand up and say that it is survivable,” Galligan said. “It is very helpful for any patient to know that they are

not alone.”

Skelton, who used to be Bartlett’s roommate, lost his grandmother to lung cancer five years ago. When he was young, Skelton’s grandfather died from bone cancer. He said their memory inspired him to join the documentary team and use his filmmaking skills for a good cause.

“It’s an extremely traumatic situation,” Skelton said. “You are never going to be the same after going through it. I’ve seen it with my grandma and what people have to go through, so that made me want to help with the documentary.”

The crew has chosen to use IndieGoGo.com, a website where people can receive donations for various projects, to fund the expenses of their documentary and

road trip.

They started their account on the site April 17 with the goal of reaching $7,500. They received $235 as of press time. They have until June 19 to reach to their goal, but will be granted whatever donations

they make.

Bartlett has also used CouchSurfing.com, which he describes as “Facebook for travelers,” to get in contact with people who are offering their homes as pit stops for the crew on their road trip. He has been in contact with almost 15 people, many of whom have been affected by cancer in some way. Accola said he is excited to stay with them and hear what they have to say. They plan on filming each person they stay with to capture their stories and perspectives on cancer.

“I want to open people’s eyes,” Bartlett said. “Yes, cancer is terrible. But once it’s over, it is possible to find the beauty in life.”

For more information on “Discovering the Beating Path” or to make a donation, visit IndieGoGo.com/dtbp. All donations must be received by June 19.