The independent film community is a tightly-knit global one, in which its members share their art – and their lives – via social networks. I was first introduced to Kat Caverly when I was filming my series “They Live Among Us.” Kat is one of those rare people, whose incandescence shines brightly through her Twitter feed. I knew immediately that we would become friends, and so, a few years later, when I received my diagnosis, Kat was one of the first people I turned to, for she had survived a diagnosis of Stage 3 breast cancer.
Kat has recently released her short film, “Coping With Uncertainty”, an inspirational piece, which records her journey from cancer patient to cancer survivor. Recently, we sat down for a couple of cups of virtual tea, and talked about her film, her journey, and life with the Big C. Enjoy!
A: When did you first find out that you had cancer?
K: The beginning of this chapter of my life started with a diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer on July 22, 2013. This was also the beginning of me getting very lucky. I was scheduled for a PET CT the following week which proved it had not metastasized, so it was NOT Stage IV, which cannot be cured. Two months after I was diagnosed, I started the blog Effects on the Side. There, I archived my thoughts during treatments, mostly the chemo. I took a writing workshop through the 7 weeks of radiation, as a way to process all that I was going through.
A: What was your first thought, after being told?
K: As my surgeon gave me the news, “You’ve got cancer,” my first thought was how hard it must be to give anyone that news. I have a compassion towards, and admiration for, all of my doctors and nurses.
A: I am always humbled by your perspective; how you think of others first. And yet, that’s how I reacted when I was first diagnosed. Thinking of those around me, my doctor, my husband, my family and friends. I guess it was easier for me to think “Poor Don/Mom/Chris/etc” as opposed to think about what the diagnosis meant for me. Like you have said, we all learn to cope with uncertainty.
K: (nods) There is something about a cancer diagnosis which makes you jump back to the past in search for that elusive “what-if”. Luckily, I have wanted only one thing since I was three years old, and that is to get to be very, very old. The fact is, I’ve always dreaded the possibility of getting breast cancer, but there are some risk factors I just couldn’t change – like being a woman. I realized after twenty years of yearly tests, mammograms do not prevent breast cancer.
A: I remember when I first discovered that you were engaged in this “battle.” I saw a Tweet of yours, and your profile picture had changed. You were bald. I thought, “Oh, shit, Kat’s dancing with the big C.”
K: Oh, shit, indeed!
A: So then, we talked about it, how you went public. What made you decide to take such a personal event, and go public with it?
K: Here’s an excerpt from my blog. It’s hard for me to read these words, written while chemo was raging through my veins, and radiation was being aimed at me every single day –
One of Kat’s many Tweets on life with the Big C.
“Save the pity for this fucking cancer. There. I said it. It needed to be said upfront each and every time I told those near and dear to me that I had been diagnosed with cancer. This gave them permission to start cracking-wise, which was what I needed to hear right after they told me they were sorry to hear it.
My friends and family were quick to oblige, and I quickly filled my days after diagnosis with the sounds of my own laughter. I was hell-bent on putting some fun in this dysfunction. I had to start with not feeling sorry for myself.”
I also know that my positive point of view and lifestyle can’t cure cancer.
A: So, tell me about “Coping with Uncertainty.” How did this journey into filmmaking begin? What obstacles did you face and how did you deal with them?
K: When I started making daily self-portraits in August 2013, I thought I would do a time-lapse revealing my emotions through my face. Then, as my hair started coming out, (week four) I did 360º turn-arounds, imagining another time-lapse series showing me going bald, which you do see in the movie.
My major treatments were finished in March 2014, and then I started hormone starvation, since mine is a estrogen positive breast cancer. The hardest part of all of this was about to begin, and I thought it has just ended.
In April 2014, I began gathering all of the 4000+ photographs, and that process was daunting for me. I really did feel sorry for myself, and had to get distance from it all. In May 2014, in collaboration with Thomas Hudson Reeve – my husband, who is also a writer/filmmaker – I decided to shoot an interview with me talking about all of this. Dancing on Planet Cancer is not for sissies.
It was still too raw for me, and too personal. Tom helped me see that I could actually help others with my movie. It would take us another year to finish “Coping with Uncertainty.”
A: What was your worst moment during treatment/diagnosis? What was your best?
K: My worst moment? It was my first Day 5 of AC chemotherapy.. On Day 5 after each of this chemo-cocktail, the same thing would happen, but the first time I was scared. The uncertainty was the worse part in general, and by the time I got used to anything, I’d be off on a new chemo-cocktail… and another round of uncertainty.
So, it’s Day 5, and I knew I would be hit hard. Thinking was like through a dense-fog. My blood pressure dropped. I kept wondering if I should get help. I wasn’t worried enough to call my oncologist, or go to the hospital, because the thought of going outside was unbearable. However, the next day was a good day!
My husband is gone 5 out of 7 days, down in the Big City making the big TV shows. I am a lone wolf when it comes to fighting such battles, so I was fine being alone. Help was literally around the corner since I am within a mile of all of my doctors, hospitals, and treatment centers.
My best moment???! Hmmmm….
Oh and there was one!! It was after my first Taxol chemo-cocktail. They filled me up with dexamethasone and I was Flying High. I also wrote a blog piece about one of those great days.
A: Better living through chemistry. I’m a passionate advocate for compassionate care in regards to cancer patients and/or people living with progressive, terminal illnesses. It’s easier to get a gun than it is to get pain medications where I live.
A: Yikes, indeed. Okay, a couple more, and then we’ll take a look at your trailer.
K: *claps hands*
A: What do you want people who have just heard those life-changing words “You have cancer” to know?
K: What a great question! Okay. You’ve just heard those life-changing words “You have cancer.” I want you to know it is still ok to enjoy your life. It is still ok to laugh and smile, to love. It is ok to celebrate life and every precious moment of it.
A: Last, what would you say, if today you met your ten-year old self?
K: You do learn how to be happy in the face of life’s worse things happening to you.
Kat’s film, “Coping with Uncertainty”, is available for purchase on her website; below, is a trailer for this life-affirming project. I dare you to not become infected by Kat’s unique and joyous take on life:
“Coping with Uncertainty” from Kat Caverly on Vimeo.
Follow @KatCaverly on Twitter!