UF journalism professor films cancer journey

John Kaplan's documentary helps other patients cope

John Kaplan, a photojournalism professor at the University of Florida, documented his battle with cancer in a film called "Not As I Pictured."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A few years ago when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, University of Florida photojournalism professor John Kaplan started filming an autobiography on his journey.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist knows this story better than any others he's ever covered.

Now his film, which has helped other cancer patients cope with the disease, will air on national TV on Monday night, locally on PBS on WJCT.

"You just pray you can beat it," Kaplan said of cancer in the documentary. "I'm learning that you've got to find strength, somehow forge a positive attitude."

He knows because he documented his own venture during the most difficult of times.

"I'd never been sick other than the common cold, and when you first hear that seemingly sinister word cancer, in my case, I did not know how to cope with it," Kaplan said. "So I began taking pictures and eventually video purely as a way to cope with the fear."

The span quickly widened.

"I realized very early on that if I could go into remission, and I hoped and prayed that I would, that the work that I was doing could truly help other families touched by cancer, too," Kaplan said.

He did go into remission and is now healthy, much to the relief of his wife and children. He wove the photos and video he took into a documentary called "Not As I Pictured."

"In my profession, photojournalism, cancer stories are the biggest cliched," Kaplan said in the film. "But when you get cancer, you don't feel like a cliche."

The documentary has been shown internationally, reaching millions of viewers on networks like PBS. And Kaplan has given away thousands of free copies on DVD, with help from sponsors like the American Cancer Society.

"Universally, when people watch this movie, they feel better," Kaplan said. "It's life-affirming, it's positive, and you know, today, so many cancers are not only treatable, they're beatable."

While one-third of all women and half of all men will get cancer in their lifetime, Kaplan said his story is a reason to keep fighting, because chances are they can overcome it.

"You can make it through to the other side, back to health and the joy of every day," he said.

If you're a cancer patient or the family of one, Kaplan will send you a free copy of the DVD of his film and a cancer coping guide. To get it, go to NotAsIPictured.org.

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