Humbled and Grateful

Posted on: Sat, 03/23/2024 - 10:59 By: journeyadmin
Watercolour rose in memory of Shannnon Gall


"Strangely you have more reason to live after you learn that you are dying. There's more poignancy to moments. Joy in my sorrow. Death lingers in even the most innocuous of moments. Enjoy the moments of gratitude. Recognize the beauty and the tragedy in the world around me. There is an awesome amount of grace that I have been extended. The least I can do is return that grace."

"To sum it up, life is challenging but interesting. I find myself noticing the little things. The red-throated flicker as I started my walk yesterday. The crazy nuthatch family. The American goldfinch flitting through our cedar trees."  Taken from previous blog posts

Where to start the story? Several months ago I was approached to add my story to the Canadian Cancer Society Story Center. I had had an encounter with them earlier that didn't end very satisfactorily. Unsurprisingly, I had some reservations but telling my story is one of the things that I do, so I said, "Yes."

That "yes" turned into four stories that reflected my journey in unexpected ways that were completely joyful. As we completed the writing, I received a long email. It ended with an invitation to discuss being the featured patient for the 2024 Daffodil Ball in Vancouver. My only caveat was that this opportunity had to be about changing the narrative around lung cancer. We agreed. A theme of "air and breath" was the director's contribution to the creativity. And the Canadian Cancer Society wanted to make sure their new advertising campaign, "It Takes a Society" was reflected.

When I read the first draft of the script, I cried. If a script can make me do this I can hardly wait to see the final product on April 27, 2024 at the Ball. But there was so much more to this story.

Meeting the director, Brandon Kapelow, started the journey." His immersion and understanding of my story was surprising for an initial meet-and-greet. And I have learned that this immersion is unusual. The slightly off-red toque that he wore was the beginning of many points of contact and comfort. The "Shadow" as my friends affectionately dubbed him, and a nickname that he took as the joke that it was meant to be. He was at once inconspicious and highly directive. He let me in his creative thinking almost right away, sharing the "treatment," a series of photos and music and dialogue that outlined what he wanted to accomplish.

"Movie magic" was not an unfamiliar term. To see it in action, though was an experience I will never forget. There were three aspects that enthralled me: the teamwork required; the importance of light; and the quality of sound needed.

The first part of the experience with sound began at the conference in Santa Monica. I was a little antsy about walking around having conversations while connected to a live/hot microphone. It was taped unobtrusively to my T-shirt. It proved not to be a problem at all.

Background sound is something we all take for granted. When we were voice-recording in my apartment, we had to take down the wind chimes outside, take the battery out of my clock and  unplug my refrigerator to reduce background sounds. At another point we had to stop to let an ambulance go by or an airplane pass overhead. The care and attention the crew put into sound made me aware of what it takes to record quality sound. In another series, we recorded some sensitive support conversations for use as background. The silence of the crew allowed that recording to happen as though they weren't even there.

My first exposure to the issues around light happened at the conference I was attending. I chose an outdoor lunch table exposed to enjoy the bright California sun. After a few minutes, the Shadow came by and asked if we would mind moving to another table. This time, he carefully positioned me so that shadows and natural light played on my face. The crew took a most amazing series of shots in the bedroom as they wanted to capture me waking.  The room was on the north side of the house. They used reflectors outside the window and then waved plastic palm branches. All this effort created dappled sunlight splashing across my face.

My introduction to film production was gentle. The Shadow followed me around the conference in Santa Monica acting as cameraman, sound man, and director. The next event though introduced me to an expanded crew, adding a cameraman and a producer. Now, Brandon became the director. The teamwork as they worked to get the film shots that they needed was surprising.  The shorthand language, the sharing of thoughts, the support of each other was like a well-oiled machine. In an industry reknowned for its egos, I saw none of that throughout the filming. They were professionals, knew their roles and between them, made magic happen.

We had three full days of filming with a full crew. Sound technician, gaffers, producers, executive producers, focus-puller were all added to the basic crew. They transformed all sorts of things and set up equipment to film me running, sailing, and facilitating support groups. We even managed through a series of happy coincidences to get three hours in a PET scanner. The room was closed for maintenance.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. It was much more strenuous than I expected but everyone was very respectful of me and my energy levels. I'm humbled by the opportunity and grateful that I could contribute to this incredible fundraising effort.