The Art of the Possible

Updated Fri, Oct 21, 2011 9:53 am


Professors Casey Hayward and Lynn Harter produce documentary on cancer

Documentary to air on 10/24 at 9 p.m.


Cancer is a diagnosis feared by many, its treatment understood by few. As an uninvited life guest, cancer unsettles daily routines, strains relationships, and shifts one’s sense of self. Upon diagnosis, patients struggle to revise their life-stories and accommodate changes in their bodies and social relations. The treatment of childhood and adolescent cancer is particularly daunting. While their peers are choosing between soccer and band camp, teens with cancer are coping with the side-effects of chemotherapy drugs and surgical procedures. The Art of the Possible invites audience members into the worlds of five families living with cancer, its treatment, and what remains in the aftermath.

The Art of the Possible is timely and relevant. Although the incidence of pediatric cancer continues to increase and it remains the leading cause of death among U.S. children and adolescents, death rates have declined dramatically over the past 20 years while five year survival rates have increased (National Cancer Institute, 2009). How can patients and families live well in the midst of treatment, remission, or reoccurrence? How can care providers be responsive to patients’ uncertainties, fears, and particular life circumstances while organizing care? These questions motivated The Art of the Possible, a documentary collaboratively co-created by filmmakers, patients and their families.

Dr. Pete Anderson, the Curtis Distinguished Professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a pediatric oncologist who specializes in osteosarcoma, is a key protagonist in the documentary. Over a period of eighteen months, the filmmakers followed Dr. Pete as he developed therapeutic alliances with patients and their families. The cast of characters includes families living in Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio. Producers Hayward and Harter involved family members not only as characters but also as partners and content creators. With a camera in hand, each family shot footage of their everyday lives, narrating their experiences from their unique points of view. By relying in part on footage shot by participants themselves, the producers allowed family members to contribute to the development of their on-screen characters and storylines. The Art of the Possible, a creative mosiac of footage shot by both families and filmmakers, follows families as they live their lives in diverse scenes including clinical settings, summer camps and ski-trips for survivors, online support communities, fundraisers and family vacations.

This high-definition documentary offers the public and medical community-at-large a glimpse of cancer care that couples conventional therapies with humanizing communication practices. At once humorous and haunting, The Art of the Possible presents a narrative portrayal of families trying to create “a new normal” in the midst of cancer, and the care providers that serve them.


The Documentary Team

Co-Producer, Research, and Public Affairs

Lynn M. Harter, Ph.D., is the Steven and Barbara Schoonover Professor of Health Communication at Ohio University and Senior Editor of Health Communication. Her research focuses on discourses of health and healing and organizing processes, and has been funded by the Ohio Arts Council and the Office of Rural Health Policy. She has published over 50 journal articles and book chapters, several books and numerous trade/industry publications. Her co-edited volume entitled Narratives, Health, and Healing received an Outstanding Book Award from the National Communication Association in 2006. She lives in Athens, Ohio, with her husband, Scott, daughter, Emma Grace, and hamster Clara Belle.

Co-Producer and Director

Casey Hayward, M.F.A., is Assistant Professor in the School of Media Arts and Studies at Ohio University. Hayward directs and produces independent documentary films in addition to teaching students the craft of visual storytelling. Hayward’s documentary films have shown at the Cannes Marché du Film, the United Nations Association Film Festival, The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and many other film festivals. His most recent documentary, Plan F, received the award for best cinematography at the 2007 Oxford International Film Festival and will be distributed by Fanlight Productions, a leading distributor of films about healthcare and disabilities. 

Associate Producer and Web 

Courtney E. Cole, M.A., is a Doctoral Student in the School of Communication Studies. Her research interests include narrative approaches to health, healing, and organizing processes, particularly in contexts of conflict and suffering. Prior to pursuing her Ph.D., Cole worked in communications and research for several nonprofit organizations. Cole is a Graduate Teaching Associate in the School of Communication Studies and currently serves as Editorial Assistant for Health Communication.