Capturing Survivorship: 17 Years of Storytelling Through Film

We’ve always tried to be invisible. It’s actually part of our job to be ignored. But we’re thankful for our partnership with LIVESTRONG so we agreed to write about it. If you’ve been part of any of LIVESTRONG’s major historical events over the last 17 years, you might have noticed a small camera crew. That would be us: Alpheus Media. We’ve been helping LIVESTRONG tell their story from early Ride for the Roses events, through the wristband phenomenon and the beginning of the LIVESTRONG movement, and all the way to the present day.

The goal of our partnership has been been to capture and share the human stories behind the LIVESTRONG movement. Our philosophy has always been to simply allow their work to speak for itself, through film.

LIVESTRONG: Who We Are

Over the years our work has given partners and donors a glimpse into the lives of people who are helped by LIVESTRONG. We have interviewed hundreds of cancer survivors, and their interviews have inspired others going through a cancer diagnosis, caring for a loved one or enduring post-treatment effects. Cancer impacts individuals, so for someone who is recently diagnosed, being able to go online and watch an interview with someone who has lived though their exact kind of cancer can be extremely helpful. And our films can lead to more support for LIVESTRONG’s programs and services.

It all started in 2000, when co-founder Wilson Waggoner and I were invited to produce biographical videos for cancer survivors Ellen Stoval and Mary Lovato, who were being honored at the ‘Live to Ride’ Gala. After the Gala, LIVESTRONG continued to ask us to help them with video production, and that’s how it began. We all have our own personal connection to cancer, and for myself it was my grandmother Lynn Stempel. At the same time we began working with LIVESTRONG, she was diagnosed with a glioblastoma and passed away. The mission of LIVESTRONG connected with me, and I felt this was a chance for me to strike back at the disease that took her from my family.

In the early 2000’s, we conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with people at various stages in their cancer fight. From here, we began to build out a larger library of resources for survivors which included documentaries and clinical footage. We were struck by this new term “survivorship,” which had not been used much until LIVESTRONG began to define the term. Far from being cancer “victims” or “patients,” people were empowered by calling themselves “survivors.” The use of the term “survivor” was a revolution.

As LIVESTRONG grew, we started to document the story of their impact through grants. We traveled all over the U.S. documenting “stories of impact” so that LIVESTRONG’s supporters could see their dollars in action. This was the time period that we really began to witness firsthand the positive impact the movement was having on people. In hospitals, clinics and palliative care environments, we would talk to people who were fighting cancer with every ounce of their being. One of the things we learned is that LIVESTRONG is not about one person, and it’s not about celebrity — it’s about the cancer survivors themselves. Often we would be surprised when the media chose to focus on a celebrity because what we always saw was the substantive work being done by LIVESTRONG staff to help people.

We were at almost every LIVESTRONG Challenge, and we would meet people taking a break from treatment to ride or people riding for their family member or loved one. The emotion at these events was always so powerful, and we did our best to capture those moments. We came to know the “regulars” and this often led to film projects with them, which could illustrate the LIVESTRONG’s services better than a brochure. We also lost a fair amount of survivor friends we met over the years, which has been a painful part of the journey. But survivors we met always seemed to find a new sense of purpose through the cathartic and selfless act of sharing their stories.

As LIVESTRONG made a large effort to understand attitudes toward cancer across the world and what can be done internationally to reduce cancer stigma, we set out with LIVESTRONG staff to examine how cancer is perceived in five countries: Mexico, Japan, India, South Africa and Italy. The film Stigma and Silence was used to illustrate the issue and was shown all over the world.

LIVESTRONG’s efforts in this area led to the LIVESTRONG Summit in Dublin, Ireland, where leaders from around the world came together and made commitments to fight cancer in their own countries. We were in Dublin documenting this event and then traveled back later to document the work they did as a result of the summit. We also traveled to Rwanda and Haiti documenting the partnership with Partners in Health to fight cancer in developing countries, featured in the film Delivering Hope, which was presented at the United Nations Summit.

Over and over, we were reminded that it’s about all the people they serve. And to us, the heroes of LIVESTRONG are the people in their individual cancer fight. We observed that LIVESTRONG has always been more of a grassroots endeavor than perhaps the media realized, since we knew that often the best thing we could do for the cause was to simply point the cameras at the LIVESTRONG Leaders and advocates out doing the work in their community. Their energy has always been infectious.

We were able to document LIVESTRONG partnerships, like Movember and the launch of LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, now in over 534 communities. We’ve also helped shine a light on young adult cancer survivors in the award-winning short documentary “Missed.”

In 2014, LIVESTRONG announced it would invest $50 million over 10 years to launch the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes, partnering with the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We’ve been filming that endeavor since day one, making sure to capture these historic moments in the life of the LIVESTRONG movement. The field of survivorship that LIVESTRONG popularized, and data they’ve collected over the years, is now expanding to patient-centered care and will be used to train a new generation of oncologists. Alpheus Media is honored to be part of this historic movement and excited to see where it leads.

Mat Hames, Executive Creative Director/ Producer, Alpheus Media


LIVESTRONG offers free, confidential and personalized support to patients, caregivers and anyone affected by cancer. If you or someone you know needs help, please get in touch.