Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘BROUGHT ME BACK TO LIFE’: Senior premiering cancer documentary

Cole Kachejian, a graduating senior, stands next to the poster promoting the showing of his film, “Paused: A Cancer Documentary.”

 

 

By Aleksandra Sidorova

When Cole Kachejian was diagnosed with leukemia in late 2021, he had no guarantee he would make it to where he is today.

The graduating senior is showing the Plattsburgh community his struggle with cancer at the screening of his film, “Paused: A Cancer Documentary,” at 5 p.m. tomorrow, April 27, in Yokum 200. The event will also raise money for charity and accept food donations for the Cardinal Cupboard.

“I knew I wanted this to be more than just a premiere,” Kachejian said. “I wanted it to be as proactive as it can and give back to the community, because now I have the power to give back. If I have the power to do something, if I have the wisdom to do something, if I have the experience to do something, you’re damn well sure I’m going to do something.”

 

BREATH BY BREATH

Kachejian thought he was simply sick with the flu when he went home to Smithtown, New York, for winter break, not knowing it would be a year until he returned to college. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — cancer of the blood and bone marrow — Dec. 22, 2021.

Life went on for everyone else, but Kachejian’s was put on hold as he found himself bound to his home or hospitals, unable to see his friends and sometimes unable to move or even talk. To keep himself busy, he started filming his journey.

Combining his two majors in TV-video production and psychology, Kachejian focused “Paused” on his journey as a cancer patient from both physical and mental perspectives, the latter of which he said people seldom consider. 

“It was not being able to see my friends and continue my studies and do all the things I wanted with these young years of my life in college that truly tore me down and almost made me lose myself,” Kachejian said. “It was through my passions that I not only found myself again, but I reinvented myself into someone much stronger than I was before my diagnosis.”

The documentary gave Kachejian purpose, hope and something to look forward to doing every day. He also found comfort in the mantra “Day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath.”

“It felt like I never stopped doing what I love, like I was right back into that, and it made me so happy that I didn’t want to stop,” Kachejian said. “I didn’t want to cut this project off at any point. I wanted to keep on going, and that brought me back to life.”

 

NOT THE END

At first, Kachejian considered adapting his experience into a narrative film with characters, script and a story.

“I needed to show the truth for what it is — that’s when I switched it to this documentary format, where I would just focus on capturing the moments as I lived them, things I was feeling, highlights from my treatment and kind of put that together,” Kachejian said.

Kachejian could finally press “play” on his life when he returned to SUNY Plattsburgh in January 2023.

Kachejian sat down at the Plattsburgh State Television studio and recorded himself talking for an hour straight to narrate the documentary. The only other student in the studio, Ixy Granados, provided technical support from the control room.

“I could’ve written it all out, my story. I could have put it in a teleprompter, and I said no, because if I read this off, it’s not going to come from the heart as much as if I just actually spoke it out,” Kachejian said. “In the moment that the camera started recording, I just let it go for an hour. I knew that that would be more genuine than trying to read off something. I didn’t stop. There was no ‘cut, let’s redo that’ — we did it all in one take.”

Kachejian said he considers his outlook on life to be optimistic.

“Calling it ‘Paused’ was a big representation of how I felt, like my life was completely paused, but I didn’t call it ‘End,’ I didn’t call it ‘Stop’ because I knew I still had so much ahead,” Kachejian said.

Kachejian recorded more footage than he could include in “Paused.” To not let it “go to waste,” Kachejian will include it in a secondary project to premiere in April 2025, when his treatment ends.

“One of the reasons I created the documentary was to not let my pain, my experience as a cancer patient, stop me from who I wanted to be and I didn’t want what I was going through to be for nothing,” Kachejian said. “I wanted to take my experience, my memories, the good ones and the bad, and show people that we could do so much more with it.”

 

GIVING BACK

Kachejian met Tom Thompson, his Student Support Services adviser, when he returned to college. Kachejian shared his story and the “Paused” trailer with Thompson, asking for feedback.

“The idea of courage keeps coming up to me,” Thompson said. “It’s really courageous — here’s a young man, he’s putting the spotlight on himself to raise awareness.”

Thompson and Ashley Durocher, assistant director of SSS, introduced Kachejian to the Student Mental Health Initiative group, which included students working or interning with SSS or the Accessibility Resource Office as well as volunteers. 

The students suggested hosting a public showing and engaging as many bodies on- and off-campus as they can: both of Kachejian’s academic departments, the nursing department, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, athletes, Greek life organizations and clubs. 

Students also promoted the event on social media, community calendars and radio stations.

“What I really love about the group of students and interns that we have is that they’re all so deeply connected to other spaces on campus and in the community, so it wasn’t one person’s effort,” Durocher said. “It really just shows the value of the work of our interns and student workers, I would say, to help lift up one of their fellow students.”

The Pinky Swear Pack club will table at the showing, selling friendship bracelets and accepting donations for the national Pinky Swear Foundation that financially and emotionally helps children with cancer and their families. Kachejian is a member of the club himself.

Kachejian said he hopes sharing his story helps other patients and their loved ones, even though every cancer patient’s experience is different. Most of all, he wanted to convey mindfulness and gratitude for parts of life taken for granted.

“When you’re a cancer patient, you’re not the only one affected — your family, your friends, your loved ones are all affected, too,” Kachejian said. “When you get such a diagnosis, it shows you life in a whole different way because you know that at any moment, anything could change now. Things could get worse, things could get better, so you have to live every day and love every day to the best of your ability, so that’s what I try to do.”

Kachejian recalled his time at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

“There were so many kids, so many patients that aren’t just able to walk out of those doors, that are in there dealing with struggles far worse than mine, and they’re one of the biggest reasons I made this documentary,” Kachejian said. “It’s a way to inspire them, to show them that you’re going to get through this, and that there is such a brighter and happier life ahead, and to show that what they go through doesn’t make them weak, it makes them stronger. … For me, making this documentary was in service of remembering those who aren’t as fortunate as I am to leave that hospital.”

Kachejian’s friends and family are coming to the premiere, too.

“Words can’t describe how excited I am to be able to show this off in the way that we’re doing it,” Kachejian said. “It’s my story, but it’s not just about my pain, it’s about how to get through the pain and how to make something more with it.”

 

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Kachejian was selected as one of the speakers for commencement to be held Saturday, May 18.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it here, and to be able to now say that I’ve made it’ it’s an indescribable feeling, what I can only say is happiness and gratitude, but it’s also sad because I love this place,” Kachejian said. “I think my story here is coming to an end so that I can start a whole new story somewhere else, so it’s very bittersweet.”

Kachejian said he’s going to graduate school for psychology, aiming for a PhD in clinical psychology. Ideally, he would have his own practice. However, his passion for filmmaking and storytelling isn’t going anywhere.

“My idea of bringing these two fields together, of intertwining them, is to be a storyteller — to help people tell their stories in a creative, credible, reliable way,” Kachejian said. “I think I would be doing that type of work very passionately and bringing justice to the portrayal of different types of struggles in media. I think a lot of it comes from what has already been put out there that has portrayed mental disorders and physical struggles in the wrong way. I want to right those wrongs.”

Thompson said he feels inspired by both Kachejian himself and his film.

“I always say, to know (Kachejian) is to be inspired by him,” Thompson said. “You meet a few people in your career, in your lifetime, that really have an impact on you. There’s those few people that you’re like, ‘Wow, that person’s an inspiration, that person’s pretty remarkable’ — that person is Cole. He’s the kind of person that I think we all strive to be.”

“Paused” will be shown in Yokum 200 tomorrow, April 27, at 5 p.m. Refreshments will be available at a reception starting 4:30 p.m., and Kachejian will host a question-and-answer panel after the film. Register for the event through the Google Form.

 

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