‘Until 20’ will wrestle your consciousness into action

JHODIE-ANN WILLIAMS | 4/7/2016, 5:17 p.m.
What were you doing in the years and moments leading up to turning 20? It’s a question that you will ...
Geraldine Moriba & James Regan Steve Buckwalter photo

Many scenes in the film will make you cry, but not all tears will be sad. Some moments will make you cry with gratitude that there was a person in this world who was so selfless during a time when many of us would have allowed self-pity and anger to consume us.

The cameras followed Ragan to multiple doctor visits. During one visit, he was faced with two possible routes that he could take to treat the growing tumors around his lungs. He could leave them and be faced with a just few months to live, or live a bit longer by undergoing another round of chemo, which comes with very debilitating side effects. Ragan really wanted to forgo the chemo, because if he were going to die, he wanted to die with those remaining months filled with as much joy and quality as possible.

After the cameras and the doctors exited the room, Ragan and his family discussed which approach would be best. We could hear his mother weeping and saying that she knew that he was ready to die, but she was just not ready to let him go. And in that moment, you begin to imagine how excruciating it must be to have all of your optimism and false sense of security—from the years Ragan’s body had scraped by—deflated. In the end, he chose to give chemo another shot.

While you watch this film, you won’t be ready to let Ragan go either. He’s touched so many lives. Imagine what he can do past 20. He’s just met a wonderful girl. Imagine if they fall in love.

For many families, especially for those of color, learning how to let go is a sad reality. According to studies, one in four children dianosed with cancer does not survive. That statistic is higher within the Black and Latino communities, because of late diagnosis and the access to health insurance is disproportionately low.

But for those who go into remission, there is survivor’s guilt. A young girl who met Ragan while they were both undergoing treatment had survived. In the film she asks the question, “Why me?” How come her cancer responded positively to treatment but Ragan’s didn’t? Just as cancer is blind at picking its victims, it is blind at picking its survivors.

As Moriba interviewed and filmed Ragan, she also had survivor’s guilt. Here she was in remission from the same rare and aggressive form of cancer, filming a kid who was not going to have the same outcome. They were treated by some of the same doctors, in the same center, with some of the same therapies, but for one of them, it was just not working.

Because sarcoma is so rare, research on therapies gets little funding. As one nurse in the film explained, doctors are still using drugs from the 1960s, because new developments had stalled.

Moriba explained that it all came down to profit. It takes millions of dollars to develop a new drug, and for pharmaceutical companies to make a profit there has to be enough patients taking that drug to make money. The rare cancers, such as sarcoma, have so few victims that there are not enough people to take the drugs, so it’s not cost-effective for companies to develop them.