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Not As I Pictured

My Journey through Cancer

by John Kaplan

Inspiration image

As a well-known photo-journalist, I was used to documenting life’s challenges, and even the worst that life could offer a human being. In my more than 25-year career, I had covered revolution in the Philippines, the worst tornadoes to hit the United States in a century, and many other devastating circumstances.

Journalists who cover such real-life drama can fall into an easy trap of believing we are invincible, that the life challenges faced by our subjects will not happen to us. Of course, that is not true, but even at age 48, I had never truly faced my own vulnerability.

I had rarely been ill, so when a routine CT scan revealed a kidney tumor and an eventual rare diagnosis of non- Hodgkin lymphoma growing inside me, picking up my cameras was the last thing on my mind. But, initially as a way to cope with my fear, I began photographing and shooting video of myself through the treatment process. It was a distraction from the tough realities I faced. I soon realized that if I was able to go into remission, and I hoped and prayed that I would, my story could lend hope and courage to other families facing cancer.

I believe that my film shares a powerful will to make it through the fear, balancing hardship with several serendipitous and surprisingly magical moments.

Inspiration image

Not As I Pictured

The result is Not As I Pictured, a 54-minute feature-length documentary film. Despite the serious topic, Not As I Pictured is easy to watch, and even humorous at times.

I am now happily in remission. With the goal of giving away 10,000 free copies of Not As I Pictured for personal use to anyone touched by cancer, I hope to share the message that so many cancers today are beginning to be treated as chronic illness rather than death sentence.

When suddenly faced with a lifethreatening illness, I had no idea that so many positive things could come forth from such devastating news, and this has fortunately been at the core of my motivation to make the film. The dreaded news of cancer is certainly no fun, but you can make it through to the other side, back to health and the joy of every day.

I know what a cliché many cancer stories can be. But when you get cancer, you don’t feel like a cliché, you just pray you can beat it. I believe that my film shares a powerful will to make it through the fear, balancing hardship with several serendipitous and surprisingly magical moments. Thus, Not As I Pictured does indeed confront the cliché.

During my treatment, I received so much unexpected help along the way, often from strangers. By giving away the film, I’m determined to give some of that back.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

John Kaplan is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo-journalist, a professor in the department of Journalism at the University of Florida, and a non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor.

Visit to view John’s two-minute film trailer, order a free copy of his documentary for personal use, or inquire about having John to speak at community events. To join the online conversation about the film, visit

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2012.