Cancer can be deadly and scary, but it doesn't always lead to death and need not rob a person of his or her sexuality.
Just ask "Crazy Sexy Cancer" survivor/filmmaker Kris Carr of Bearsville, the creator and star of a documentary and soon-to-be-published self-help book of the same name. "Crazy Sexy Cancer" makes a local debut with its first regional screening June 29 as part of the pre-season Woodstock Film Festival.
"People say to me, what's so sexy about cancer? What I tell them is: 'Women who have it, we're living, vibrant, crazy, sexy, struggling, normal women."
Over the last four years, while fighting relentlessly negative diagnoses of cancer that had infiltrated her liver and lungs, Carr has given up acting to become a documentary filmmaker, fallen in love, learned how to fly via trapeze, married, moved into a new home in Woodstock and created a sort of multimedia cancer-fighting franchise.
What started as a life-saving gambit turned into joyful exploration.
"In the midst of the desperation, I was starting to have fun," Carr said in the documentary.
Interviewed in the Bearsville home she shares with husband/filmmaker Brian Fasset, Carr, who is now 35, laughed at a pop-quiz on how to spell her disease.
Fifteen letters into spelling out the sub-category of her cancer, it was helpful for her to have Fasset at her side. Caught up on whether it was epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, or epithelioid hemengioendothelioma, Fassett spoke up and said "hemAn."
A vascular cancer, the disease has infiltrated Carr's lungs and liver, creating 24 tumors. While the tumors triggered by the disease are normally slow growing, the prognosis is almost always extremely dark.
Although there are some tears (and comically foul language) the film itself is mostly upbeat and full of life-embracing moments. Carr said she gained strength and perspective from other women who fought cancer with creativity and verve by specifically seeking them out.
"I couldn't help but wonder how other cancer chicks dealt with this," she said.
Some embraced the baldness that came with their treatments, others put on wigs and hats that said "FXXX Cancer."
She had a sense of humor about many of the new age treatments that were offered to complement what her Western doctors were suggesting. Sometimes she shook her head and laughed at the crystals or resonating healing tones waved in her direction, but she tried many of the methods anyway.
At the other end of the spectrum, she wondered at a cluster of smokers hanging out at a major cancer hospital.
"Helloooooo people!" she said, knocking her knuckle on her head.
She also tried the macrobiotic kale-burdock-daikon-whole-grain-steamed-bread diet. Macrobiotic diets are supposed to benefit from ingredients that digest well together.
To a point.
At a buffet that a cluster of vegetarians was oohing over, Carr waggled her eyebrows and said: "A plateful of gas!"
In her quest for health, Carr also internalized much wheatgrass juice (and not a few wheatgrass enemas.)
She also went through a raw phase, eating only uncooked ingredients, but that got old after a point. "I don't think I can put another raw thing into my stomach," she said when wavering.
By now, she has found a happy medium between all the dietary and exercise extremes.
She is still a vegan (no dairy or meat) and has hung on to the wheatgrass juice habit, squeezing and juicing clumps of the green shoots regularly.
During the interview, Fasset said they had just completed a flat of wheatgrass, and had had a breakfast including many vegetables juiced together.
When considering the cause of her cancer, she delved into possible environmental and attitudinal sources. Her spiritual exploration considered everything from what her personal guru Bhagavan Das had to say: "Stinkin' thinking is the problem," to whether she had karmically brought on the disease through inconsiderate behavior, the consumption of alcohol or the inhalation of illicit drugs.
Carr, who was starring in Budweiser Superbowl commercials the same year she was diagnosed, lived a rollicking lifestyle before settling down. From this point forward, she sees herself as more of a filmmaker and author. She described the soon-to-be published companion book to her film, which is also named "Crazy Sexy Cancer," to be "A girlfriends' guide to cancer."
To be sure their projects do no harm, Carr and Fasset said they are conscious not to put out a prescription for how every cancer patient should deal with their disease. Each case is unique and the science is nowhere near certain on most treatments, Fasset said.
Nonetheless, Fasset said he has been amazed by how viewers come away from screenings of the film feeling as if it validates whatever perspectives they come from, he said. "People hear what they want to hear, on both sides."
For his part, participating in most of Carr's regime has Fasset, who is 41, feeling less creaky. "I never get colds anymore," he said.
Beyond Carr and Fasset, there are plenty of local people and scenes in the film. One scene is filmed from the apex of Overlook Mountain (where the pair had their first date). Carr hunts for cancer-fighting books at Golden Notebook and shops for cancer-fighting vegetables at Sunfrost Farms, both in Woodstock.
The film leaves off with Carr getting a positive checkup at the doctor's office. Her cancer tumors seemed to have stopped in mid-development, according to the scans, and she becomes more optimistic than ever.
"I actually created a term myself, because most people really need to hear the word remission otherwise they can't take another breath. I call it progression-free remission," she said in the interview. "I talked to my doctor and he said, 'That's pretty smart.' It basically means it's just hanging out. It's like a light switch that's been turned off."
Carr's message goes beyond fighting cancer, she said. "I think anybody who has experienced any sort of adversity will be inspired by our attitude and how we head-butt it. That's the broader message of the film."
Originally published — 7:23 p.m., June 8, 2007 Updated — 10:50 p.m., June 8, 2007
Editors note:Recent Gulf Coast High School graduate Gregory Lang has battled cancer since he was 3 years old. In February, doctors said Greg had about six months to live. Greg, his sister, Kaitlyn, and their late father, Gregory Weber Sr., suffer from a rare genetic condition, Li- Fraumeni syndrome, causing recurring cancer. The Naples Daily News is following his continuing story.
Gregory and Kaitlyn Lang are trading their childhoods for a chance at adulthood.
They will say farewell to typical teenage fare. Goodbye burgers, tacos and pizza. No more ice cream, cake or cookies.
The pair plans to forgo all temptation — meat, dairy, bread — for the rest of their lives.
Starting Sunday, they will go cold turkey — without the turkey.
Greg, 18, will make the trip to Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach out of necessity, to prolong his life with cancer past doctors’ grim prognosis.
His sister, 16-year-old Kaitlyn, who battled leukemia as a child, will adopt Hippocrates’ raw vegan eating program in hopes of never needing to fight again.
They share a common goal: to make their lives of strenuous sacrifice as long as possible. And for the next three weeks, they’ll share a room, a schedule and, maybe, some inspiration.
"This is a huge step for me, as a mom, because I’ve never left either one of their sides," Ann Lang said. "But I keep focusing on the end result, and I’m so proud of them.
"They need to do this for themselves. My holding their hands can’t help them anymore."
The alternative health-care center is nutritional boot camp. For three weeks, Kaitlyn and Greg will learn to dismiss their teenage cravings through a rigorous schedule of seminars, food preparation courses, workouts and meditation periods.
If the program is successful, Greg’s cancer could be reduced to a manageable state, increasing his life expectancy by months, years, or even decades.
If it’s not, Greg said, nothing, not even hope, will be lost.
"It won’t be a waste of time," Greg explained, his smooth, baby face stony with determination. "If it doesn’t work, for some reason, I’ll know I tried my best with that option, and I’ll have to try something else."
"That’s my baby," Ann said, beaming. "Always optimistic."
After receiving a terminal diagnosis in February, Greg sprung to action, weeding through dozens of options as stories of possible solutions poured in from generous strangers.
As the fatigue and back pain grew, from expanding cancer spots on his pelvis, femur and spine, Greg continued to balk at the idea of more chemotherapy. Previous chemotherapy treatments made Greg sick, and did little to improve his outlook.
The addition of chemotherapy chemicals to Greg’s already fragile body could destroy his immune system, rather than repair it.
"Chemo didn’t work the first time, and doing it now would be the same," he said. "Chemo is a poison. It doesn’t just kill the bad stuff, it kills the good stuff, too."
Greg weighed his options, and settled on the somewhat obscure Hippocrates program, which he learned about when a stranger sent information to Greg’s Gulf Coast High School principal.
"It just makes the most sense," he said. "It can’t hurt me at all. It can only help."
By weeding out all preservatives from his diet, doctors at Hippocrates hope to cleanse Greg’s body, boosting his immune system as he battles his disease. Adding an exercise routine will increase Greg’s energy levels, and hopefully his waning appetite.
"My goal is to help improve my situation," he explained. "I want to have some more time, as much time as possible, and improve the quality of that time.
"I don’t think it’s going to be difficult to make the change, because I know it’s how it has to be."
As her brother watched, Kaitlyn spent this week gorging herself on taboo foods: meatloaf, Chick-Fil-A, pasta.
"It’s so funny to see their two different personalities," Ann laughed. "Greg wants to stop eating those things now, because he figures, ‘Why bother?’ and Kaitlyn wants all she can get."
"I just want to keep going with it," Kaitlyn reasoned. "I never want to eat meat again, so I’m getting all I can now."
Unlike Greg, Kaitlyn had a difficult time deciding whether she would visit Hippocrates and adopt the fruit and veggie life plan.
Kaitlyn suffers from the same genetic condition as her brother, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, turning the possibility of recurring cancer almost into a certainty. Because she is currently healthy, it may be more of a challenge for Kaitlyn to stay motivated.
"Mine’s a self-choice. He kind of has to do it," she said, motioning to Greg. "It’ll be tough, but I really want this, so I guess that will be my inspiration."
By choosing the responsibility of maintaining the stringent plan, the Gulf Coast 10th-grader is sacrificing her youth sooner than her brother, who graduated last month.
During her bout with leukemia at age 8, Kaitlyn put on extra weight, from the steroids she was forced to take. Dropping the few unwanted pounds will be the icing on the cake she can no longer eat.
"It’ll be hard, because I don’t want to give up eating the things my friends eat," she said. "I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am, fighting cancer, and I want to finish what I’ve started."
The Hippocrates plan can’t be called a "diet." It’s a far cry from the popular Atkins or South Beach diets.
Adoption of the vegan eating regiment is nothing short of a lifestyle overhaul.
"You can’t go back," Kaitlyn said. "If you were to start eating meat or preservatives again right away, you would get sick."
"It’s going to be life-changing, like having a baby," Ann explained, as her children, and Greg’s 16-year-old girlfriend, Brianna Hanson, laughed at the analogy.
"Well, it is!" she cried out, hushing them. "It’s going to be completely different from everything you’ve ever known."
Ann, the kids’ adopted father, Tim Lang, and Brianna admitted they will be forced to make some big changes in compliance with Greg and Kaitlyn’s new lifestyle.
"I don’t think I’ll have a choice," Brianna giggled. "It’s going to be hard for (Greg and Kaitlyn), but it’s going to be really good for them."
"I think I’m going to learn from the kids," Ann seconded. "In time, we’ll ease into it, just like any other change."
Though they’ll be shirking their teenage eating habits, Greg and Kaitlyn won’t leave their childhoods completely behind. The twosome have already conspired to rig their wireless laptop computers so they can watch television while they are away.
"I think this will be a great re-bonding for them, without any outside clutter," Ann said, rolling her eyes as the restless teens battled for room on the family’s leather couch.
"They’ve gone through so much together in their lives. I’m glad they’ll have each other for this next step."
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