In November 2009 The Silent Cancer, a feature documentary produced here at Turtle Canyon to help promote the first Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Week, was broadcast on national television
It is just over four years since we first met Les Niewiara.
We sat in a coffee shop in Beaconsfield, one January evening in 2008, discussing an idea he had for a project to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, an aggressive disease with tragically low survival rates. Over the last forty years, he explained, despite all the advances in cancer treatment and research, the chances of surviving pancreatic cancer have not improved at all. Five years after patients have been diagnosed, only 3% of them will still be alive. It was four years since Les had been diagnosed.
Les had asked Turtle Canyon to help promote a charity bike ride from the hospital where he was diagnosed to the place of his birth. London to Krakow. Just under a thousand miles.
The passion and commitment Les expressed were inspiring and we were keen to be involved in any capacity. The more we learned about the disease, the more motivated we became. Two months later and, after a lot of research and preliminary meetings with medical experts from the field, production on a documentary began.
What was originally planned as a light-hearted series of amateur videos charting Les’ progress had become a feature-length documentary that would explore the state of pancreatic cancer in the UK today, with Les and his bike ride as the main focus.
We had pages of notes and emails, full of names, that we had to follow up to request interviews with some of the leading researchers, surgeons and MPs who were fighting to improve pancreatic cancer survival rates. Working closely with Les and developing a good friendship with him meant that we were fully backed to film whatever we needed to make ‘The Silent Cancer’.
The documentary premiered in 2008 and we are incredibly proud of it. It is one of the most important things we have ever done.
There is an enormous fight to be fought. Patients need treatment, families need support and researchers need funding. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, recently passed away after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer and another 7000 people will be diagnosed in the UK this year. Only a few hundred will still be alive in 2017.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult to treat cancers in the world. It is also one of the most underfunded. So please, set aside an hour and watch the documentary, see what Les achieved and then help to make a difference. Tell people about the injustice, start a fundraiser, tweet and promote the cause. Here is a short video that explains the basics for those people who haven’t got an hour:
Les died in December 2008, less than a year after we first met. His vitality, enthusiasm and unshakeable conviction were an inspiration to all who knew him.