Brain cancer. Not the diagnosis Cassie Nguyen was expecting as a sophomore at Riverside’s Martin Luther King High School. Neither was the debilitating surgery that saved her life.
Today, Nguyen is an honor student and School of Public Policy ambassador at the University of California, Riverside, where she will graduate in June. She is a 10-year cancer survivor, American Cancer Society advocate, and the creator of Spotlight On Hope Film Camp, a free film making program for pediatric cancer patients that until now has been held only in Los Angeles.
Nguyen hopes to bring the film camp to UC Riverside and the Inland Empire, and is screening short films written and produced by pediatric cancer patients in the program on Thursday, April 2, from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Highlander Union Building 367. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is free in Lot 1; pick up parking permits at the Kiosk on West Campus Drive at the University Avenue entrance to the campus. Reservations are requested as seating is limited and may be made online. The screening is co-sponsored by University Honors and the Women’s Resource Center.
The Riverside resident said she hopes the screening will generate support to expand the program to the Inland Empire. She hopes eventually to establish a nonprofit foundation and offer film camps across the country.
Approximately 13,500 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S., and about 25 percent of them die, Nguyen said. Although Spotlight On Hope Film Camp does not reduce the death rate, it does provide a therapeutic outlet for pediatric cancer patients, she explained.
“I know how boring the hospital scene is,” Nguyen said, recalling the surgery to remove the tumor from her brain, a year of radiation and chemotherapy, and physical therapy to learn to write with her left hand and regain mobility to address on-going balance and difficult vision issues. “I wanted to do something to help kids take their minds off what was happening to them and give them something to look forward to.”
Nguyen suggested the film camp for young cancer patients while working as an intern for Think Ten Media Group, a production company based in Castaic that aims to use the power of media to create change and spread awareness of key issues.
She raised $700 to cover production costs of the first camp, held in September 2013, by selling plastic cancer bracelets to UCR faculty and students, family and friends in her junior year. She dedicated the first film camp to a younger cousin who died of sarcoma cancer at age 14.
Think Ten Media Group co-founders and filmmakers Ramon Hamilton and Jennifer Fischer helped Nguyen develop the Spotlight On Hope Film Camp for pediatric cancer patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as part of their company’s arts education program. The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television hosts the camp in Los Angeles.
When the film camp proved to be successful, Nguyen applied for and won a $10,000 scholarship from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation in 2014, which funded 10 more film camps at UCLA. The foundation awards $10,000 scholarships to as many as 15 California college juniors annually to support public-service projects that the students carry out during their senior year.
Spotlight On Hope Film Camp allows patients to explore the art of green screen and special effects film-making while working in groups to create a short, green screen and special effects film. The participants, who range in age from 8 to 22, also learn about story/character development, camera technique, video and FX editing during three days of weekend classes.
“Being a pediatric patient myself, I understand how valuable a creative therapeutic outlet can be in the midst of your long, dreadful and difficult journey battling cancer,” Nguyen explained. “Spotlight On Hope Film Camp can help children live in a fantasy world that allows them to get away from all their troubles and create lasting memories.”
Nguyen efforts to put smiles on pediatric cancer patients faces is a great example of Seizing Our Destiny’s unified city pillar, she demonstrates that we’re a caring community that has compassion for all of its inhabitants, and engages with one another for a better life for all.
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