Wilmington native chronicles cancer struggle in PBS documentary

    When a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and Wilmington native was diagnosed with cancer, he did what he knew best: He grabbed his camera to chronicle his treatment.

    Now, more than two years in remission, his documentary “Not As I Pictured” will air nationally on PBS stations.

    John Kaplan said he was completely unprepared emotionally when he found out he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008. 

    “I began taking pictures and then video purely as a way to cope with my fear at first,” Kaplan said. “Yet I realized very early on, that if I could go into remission, that the work I was doing could be of help to other families.”

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    As a photojournalist, Kaplan captured his subjects, including torture survivors in West Africa, at their most vulnerable.

    But he worried he wouldn’t allow such intimacy while documenting his own struggle.

    “When you turn the camera on yourself, you wonder if you’re going to be capable of giving that kind of intimacy and sharing of the most emotional, hardest part of your life,” Kaplan said. “And, in my case, I never felt for a moment I wasn’t willing to share what we were going through.” `

    Kaplan said he tried to avoid a clichéd “cancer movie” by keeping the film positive and affirming as he documented his six-month chemotherapy regime and two years of follow-up care.

    He is a professor at the University of Florida.

    Not As I Pictured” will air on WHYY’s Info channel Monday at 8 p.m. Kaplan will speak at a screening at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia on Thursday evening. An exhibit of Kaplan’s still photographs debut at Gallery 919 in Wilmington Friday.

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