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Upstate raises awareness of head and neck cancers with documentary

Upstate raises awareness of head and neck cancers with documentary

SYRACUSE, N.Y.--“Beneath the surFACE,” an emotional documentary of the battle waged against head and neck cancers by patients and physicians alike, will premiere at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Palace Theater, 2384 James St., Syracuse. There is no cost to attend the screening, but donations may be made to the head and neck cancer program at the Upstate Cancer Center.

The premiere will also include a live auction of radiation therapy masks that have been transformed into works of art by students from several area high schools. The auction will raise funds to support the head and neck cancer program.

A question and answer session with filmmakers and Upstate staff will take place at the conclusion of the documentary.

The 30-minute documentary, which began production in early 2016, raises awareness of head and neck cancers as patients discuss their fight against the disease. Some patients, who have endured laryngectomies (removal of the voice box) as part of their treatment, speak using a voice prosthesis.

They tell of the toll the cancer has taken on themselves and their family. In one poignant narrative, a head and neck cancer survivor speaks of his wife’s emotional plunge into deep depression on coping with his illness.

Another touching scene captures a patient discussing his faith with his physician.

Throughout the documentary, physicians and other health care providers highlight key facts about head and neck cancers, which include cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, nasal cavity and salivary glands.

Patients with head and neck cancers are treated with a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. To receive radiation therapy, patients must be fitted with a polymer mesh mask that conforms to their head and neck. Once radiation therapy is complete, the masks are either given to patients or discarded. But some medical institutions, like Upstate, have repurposed the masks as focal points for fundraising and education.

The transformed radiation therapy masks featured in this film are the result of a program that raises awareness of head and neck cancer through educational outreach and artistic experience.

The program helps Upstate Cancer Center Program and Events Coordinator Matthew Capogreco and others as they make presentations to high school students, driving home the uneasy message that head and neck cancers are most often caused by tobacco and excessive alcohol use. Intimate skin to skin contact that can transmit the human papillomavirus (HPV) is also a risk factor for some types of head and neck cancers, particularly oropharyngeal cancers that involve the tonsils or the base of the tongue.

“Through art, we are able to begin a discussion about head and neck cancer and lifestyle issues that can affect your health,” said Capogreco, who also served as executive producer for the documentary.¬† “Some head and neck cancers are preventable and we want students to know that.”

The documentary takes viewers to a local school where Capogreco discusses the radiation mask art program and the students discuss their creations.

Individuals from Upstate who are featured in the documentary include Capogreco, Ajeet Gajra, MD, Jenna Gardner, Simeon Garvin, Brian Goodrich, Seung Sing Hahn, MD, Robert Kellman, MD, Annette Marcarian, Dena Martin, Mark Marzouk, Robin Salvaterra, Ellen Scott, Patrick Smith, DDS, Amanda Spence and Emily Vanderveeken,

The film is directed by Gaston Yvorra. Sean Hunter Horan is editor and James Fazio is post-production supervisor.

Support for the production was provided by Mike Massurin and Owen Shapiro of the Syracuse International Film Festival, and the Syracuse  University Film Program.

Head and neck cancer survivor Mark Bader, a former physical education teacher in the Baldwinsville School District, is featured in the documentary, sharing the story of how difficult his diagnosis was for wife.