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Cancerland series turns diagnosis into documentary

Tigard filmmaker isnt taking cancer diagnosis lying down


Brianna Barrett, 24, of Tigard, was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphona in January. The Tigard filmmaker has taken to Youtube, documenting her experience with cancer and gaining support from strangers across the country.When Brianna Barrett got the phone call in January, she had her camera ready to document everything.

These days, she always has her camera ready.

Barrett was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells. The 24-year-old Tigard filmmaker has turned that life-changing diagnosis into a positive, documenting her journey toward recovery and posting videos online about her treatments and what it’s like living with cancer.

The result is “Welcome to Cancerland” a series of short videos she posts to Youtube.

“I don’t know why my first reaction is to film stuff,” Barrett said. “But it is.”

To view a playlist of the entire Cancerland series, click here

Barrett films everything. She filmed herself on the phone with her doctor when she first got her diagnosis. She filmed a painful bone marrow biopsy. She has filmed chemotherapy treatments and her experience going wig shopping after her hair began to fall out.

The videos are funny, emotional, often quirky and brandish Barrett’s dry sense of humor.

At first, the videos were meant as little more than a quick way to update friends and family on her progress, as well as a coping mechanism, of sorts, Barrett said. By documenting herself, it was easier to think of the situation as happening to someone else.

“Maybe that’s unhealthy,” Barrett laughed, “but it helped me have a better attitude about it. Otherwise, I’d just be depressed and wondering why this is happening to me.”

Since she started posting the videos online, hundreds of people have begun following her journey toward recovery.

“I don’t know who they are, but they are very interested in my cancer,” Barrett said.

She felt uneasy at first about the idea of strangers checking in on her progress, but said so many people have been supportive and opened her up to a world she didn’t know existed.

“On a day-to-day basis, I feel like I’m not going through it by myself as much,” she said. “I can be thinking about (the videos and the audience) and think, ‘This is a good joke,’ or ‘This is a good thing to tell people.’ It helps me look on the sunny side.”

Make a movie

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Brianna Barrett's Youtube videos document her treatments, as well as her normal life as a college student and filmmaker.A filmmaker and storyteller since an early age, Barrett said as long as there’s a story to be told, she can deal with anything.

“The darkest times in my life were when I was going through things that I didn’t want to talk to about — and there was no story,” Barrett said. “I think that makes it worse. I’ll be more able to deal with things if I can talk about them and make them funny.”

Before her diagnosis, doctors warned Barrett to expect the worst.

It was then that she decided she would make a film about her experiences.

“I got my biopsy the day after Christmas and had been waiting for like a week and a half for them to call,” Barrett said. “And I had told myself, well, if it is cancer, I’m gonna make a movie about this.”

Many days, Barrett said, she’s too ill to get out of bed. She documents that, too.

“A lot of the story is me laying in bed and not able to do anything. Seriously, the sheer extent of my laying in bed doing nothing can’t really be documented in a way that would be interesting to anyone.”

The Times wrote about Barrett in 2010 after she wrote, produced and directed a TV pilot "Nick Bradley may be an alcoholic."

The film is available on Youtube.

In fact, Barrett said, there has been only one major moment that wasn’t caught on film.

“The first couple of treatments I had, there was this horrible side effect that made my mouth feel like it was on fire,” Barrett said. “It was the worst feeling in the entire world. I couldn’t eat or drink for days, so they gave me this mouthwash that was supposed to numb my mouth so I could hydrate a little bit. But it hurt so much. I just started crying and screaming, and my mom is standing over me saying, ‘Should we be filming this?’ That was raw, true torture. Now I think, man, I wish we had filmed that.”

In addition to her treatments, Barrett is also a student at Portland Community College and is working on new film projects for when she gets better.

“I have several different projects I want to do,” she said.

One of her most recent Cancerland videos was a thank you to her audience, most of whom she has never met, who have supported her during her journey.

“Just being there for someone means a lot and might register in ways that you can’t even imagine,” Barrett said. “... I just really appreciate all the amazing people who are in my life. I knew you were all amazing before, but it’s really cool of all of you.”

For more on Barrett, visit her website..




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