Island resident featured in documentary about living with cancer
“You have cancer.” Those three words have inspired a new feature- length documentary by Rhode Island filmmaker Paul Roselli. The film, which is called “These Three Words,” is currently in production. It chronicles the daily lives of five people who are in various stages of brain cancer. Among the film’s subjects is Dr. Scott Wang, who has been living in Jamestown with his wife Carol for seven years.
The noted pathologist attended Duke University for pre-med, and Boston University for medical school. Wang then did his internship and residency in pathology at UCLA. That was followed by a fellowship the Medical College of Virginia. Wang took a job as Director of Cytopathology at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Wang’s next job brought him to Rhode Island where he was named Chief of Pathology at Newport Hospital. He served in that position from 1991 until he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the highest grade of brain cancer, in 2010. It is the same disease the took the life of Senator Edward Kennedy. Wang is 59 years old.
“I’m what they call an outlier,” Wang said. “That means that I’m beyond the bell-shaped curve in terms of survival. The median survival with this tumor is 12 months, and I am coming up on three years and one month.”
Wang is active in the RI brain tumor community, particularly given his status as a pathologist. It was through a support group that he attends that he learned about the film being made by Roselli. Wang said that he had often thought about making a film of his story, but never had the initiative to get it off the ground.
“They asked me to be part of the film and I told them I would love to be part of it,” Wang said. “They thought I would add a different perspective being a caretaker that has dealt with diagnosing these tumors, and now a patient.”
Roselli has been making documentary films for the last three years. His films have appeared on the History Channel, the Learning Channel and in several other places. He said the impetus for “These Three Words” came from a friend who has brain cancer.
“It seemed like a very compelling story,” Roselli said. “Not only are there are a lot of issues involving brain cancer, but there are issues involving the cost of insurance, clinical trials, and what happens to the human spirit when face with a life-threatening disease.”
The film showcases individuals in various stages of dealing with the disease. It includes a day in the life of someone who has just been diagnosed, a person who is just starting treatment, a person like Wang, who is well into treatment with the hope of full recovery, survivors who have lived with the disease for more than five years, and one person who has not responded to any treatment.
“The film is talking about what happens to each of these people when they have to deal with this life-threatening disease from some rather unique and unexpected perspectives,” Roselli said.
While his cognitive skills remain undiminished, Wang does struggle with some physical issues. He credits his progress to positive thinking and support from friends and family. Yoga has played an important role in his physical recovery.
“I deal with a lot of fatigue from the chemotherapy and muscle atrophy,” Wang said. “It’s a gentle yoga and it’s therapeutically helpful. I had problems with my balance. Now I walk around town and I attribute a lot of that to the yoga program.”
Diana McCallister has been teaching yoga in Jamestown for five years. She teaches two classes a week, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, at the Senior Center. She also teaches classes at the library and at Bridges. Wang has been attending her class regularly for more than a year.
“I knew that he had a brain tumor because he told me when he first started at yoga,” McCallister said. “He was very open about that.”
McCallister said that when Wang first came to her yoga class he had poor balance, and he had trouble making it up the two or three steps to the room. Now Wang can do tree pose, which is a pose in which a person stands on one foot and holds the other foot out to the side.
“He’s had a great improvement with his balance,” McCallister said. “The other thing that I’ve noticed is that he really enjoys the relaxation and the meditative aspects of yoga. It seems like that has helped him a lot in his day-to- day life.”
Roselli has interviewed Wang at home, and filmed him going to a medical appointment, and at yoga class. Like most documentary filmmakers, Roselli is trying to raise money to complete his film, and there will be a fundraiser in East Greenwich on June 4.
Roselli hopes to have the film completed by the end of July. It will then by submitted to several film festivals for consideration. He hopes that it will eventually be picked up by a television network for distribution. For more information visit the “These Three Words” page on Facebook.