Filmmaker documents own cancer journey

Filmmaker and cancer survivor Phil Roberts. 189896_04 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Kyra Gillespie

A courageous young Pakenham filmmaker has created a documentary about his own cancer journey.

Set in and around Pakenham, the documentary titled ‘A Different Side’ explores the role that humour played in his treatment process.

Philip Roberts was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – the most aggressive type of leukaemia – at the age of 13.

It was 2010; he was in Year 7 at Beaconhills College, Pakenham when he was hit with the bombshell diagnosis.

It would take him one year, through bouts of chemotherapy, full body radiation and harsh drug cocktails to make a full recovery.

This January marked eight years cancer-free for the now 21-year-old.

“I’ve always wanted to make this story; I first imagined it as a short film, but then when the opportunity to do the doco came up I realised it made more sense to do it that way,” Phil said.

“One of the inspirations actually was a short film called 50/50; it was a comedy and one of the main characters had cancer and I watched it and liked it, and that’s where this is kind of based off. I wanted to re-tell my cancer experience, but not make it like the same sob story that we’ve seen before.”

The seven minute project shares a raw and emotional insight into the private moments of a family dealing with the all-too-real possibility that their son and brother might die.

Amidst the tears and angst, there are wonderful and tender moments; nerf gun bullets stuck to the youngsters head – which was bald from the chemo; Phil’s little sister Catherine dazed and giggling after coming out of bone-marrow transplant surgery – a procedure that would save her brother’s life; and Phil smiling wearily in his hospital bed, giving a weak but assuring thumbs up to the camera.

It took the Swinburne screen and media student around four months to create.

“When I think about it now, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Which sounds weird, but it’s honestly how I feel. When I think about it, I think about the good times my family and I had,” he said.

Phil’s mum Anne, who founded support group Cancer Mums, said it was the hardest time of her life.

“There were times at 3 o’clock in the morning – the loneliest time of the morning – that I’d get up, go for a drive around the lake and plan Phil’s funeral,” she said.

“Life as you know it stops.”

Phil held a screening of the documentary at Evergreen Retirement Village in Pakenham on Wednesday 30 January.

Anne said the documentary marked a kind of closure for her son.

“We had a lot of fun; we had a lot of laughter. We had to try and find a positive for every day, and we did,” she said.

“When he was going through this a lot of people helped us – like The Leukaemia Foundation, Red Kite and Make-A-Wish – so now that it’s no longer the property of the university, what we want to do now is give it to those organisations and see if any of them want to use it for promotional material. Just to show people that yeah, it sucks and it’s tough, but it’s not all doom and gloom. You do have fun and you do laugh.

“I think it makes you stronger as a family unit, and that’s what we want to try and get across. And hopefully we will. And when he gets his first Oscar it’s mine,” she added with a laugh.

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