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The Truth About Cancer
Take One Step: A PBS Health Campaign
The Truth About Cancer + Take One Step: A Conversation About Cancer with Linda Ellerbee  

Meet the Producer

Linda Garmon

Linda Garmon wrote, produced, and directed The Truth About Cancer. Part science, part personal catharsis, part character-driven storytelling, The Truth About Cancer is also narrated by Garmon, an award-winning filmmaker, who tells the moving story of her husband's battle with cancer.

Why did you decide to make this film?
My husband, Larry D'Onofrio, wanted his story to be told. He and I bought a camera, shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer, and we set about to document his experience.

This film is obviously intensely personal for you - was it difficult to make?
This film would have been more difficult not to make, since it was an opportunity to make some sense out of the senseless tragedy of cancer.

With regards to my husband's story, Larry died more than six years ago, and I had never watched the footage of his illness. Watching the early scenes was pure delight—it was like spending time with Larry again. We were playful and affectionate with each other, and this comes across in the footage.

That said, there were some incredibly sad days on the project—such as the day the team attended the funeral of a woman who had participated in the film and had become a central character.

Linda Garmon and Larry D'Onofrio

Was it cathartic in some ways?
Finding creative outlets for grief is incredibly helpful and cathartic. In the years after Larry died, I took up lindy hop dance lessons, for example. Lindy hop is a partner dance, and you need to learn, first and foremost, the precise way to stay connected to your dance partner. Teachers will constantly remind you: "Don't hang on and don't let go." If you grab onto your partner, you'll get tangled up and insure that you cannot perform certain moves. If you lose connection entirely, it's impossible to dance. So, you cannot hang on, and you cannot let go, and I think that's good advice for how to work through the loss of a loved one. I've made my peace with Larry's death—but he will always be a part of my life.

And making this film seemed a perfect way not to hang—and not to let go.

What is the truth about cancer?
The film is structured so that viewers would learn a key truth about cancer in each of the five acts. For example, in the first act, viewers learn that fewer than one out of ten patients survive the common cancers (breast, prostate, lung, pancreatic and colo-rectal cancers) once the cancer has spread distantly through the body. In another section of the program, viewers learn that 9 out of 10 drugs that go into experimental trials fail to get FDA approval. In the third act, viewers learn that 30 percent of all cancers are related to cigarette smoking.

But the over-riding message of the program—the most important "truth"—is that while it is an intrinsic part of American culture to think that if you fight hard enough, throw enough resources at something and have a positive enough attitude that you can control your destiny, surviving cancer is all about the biology of the cancer cells—and whether they are susceptible to state-of-the-art treatment. Sometimes you can play by all the rules and just have bad biological luck.

Does your truth about cancer differ from what others may think is the truth about cancer?
Yes, there is a tragic amount of emphasis on "just having a positive attitude" and "just fighting harder" when it comes to cancer stories. This puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on cancer patients who simply have aggressive cancers—and for which little can be done! If this program can change anything, I would like it to change the silly notion that you can survive an aggressive cancer if you "just have a positive attitude."

Do you think your husband would have been proud of this film?
There is no question in my mind that he would have been immensely proud of this film, and I wish he had lived long enough to see it.

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