Cassie Nguyen is the founder of Spotlight On Hope Film Camp (SOH), a free program that gives cancer patients and their families the opportunity to learn about filmmaking. As a pediatric cancer survivor, Cassie has committed herself to making a way for those affected by cancer to express themselves. So far, SOH has served hundreds of families with past and present programs offered at UCLA, UC Riverside, and USC with grant and partnership support from the Donald A Strauss Foundation, Berkeley Big Ideas, Think Ten Media Group, Make A Wish of Southern California, and Dean Productions. Learn a little about Cassie and her program before she joins us at Upswell next week!
Q: Who are you, what drives you, what are you working on, and why are you inspired to make the world a better place?
CN: I am a pediatric cancer survivor. When I was 16, I learned that I had a malignant brain tumor. Cancer didn’t kill me, but it changed my life forever. I am now 29. My attention span, memory, and physical abilities are not what they used to be. But I vividly recall the life-and-death battle that often left me anxious, depressed, and isolated. While my high school classmates went to dances and attended classes, I was stuck in a hospital, receiving treatment, fighting infections, and reckoning with the double vision that I will have for the rest of my life.
Research tells us that stress is a key contributor to physical and mental illness. But it was my own experience that showed me how essential it is for pediatric and young adult cancer patients and their families to have an outlet to relieve this stress. They need a chance to break out of the cancer bubble and engage in something that brings them together in a joyful and positive way.
That is why I created SOH in 2013. Under the program, patients and families learn to create, produce and edit a short film, or animation project based on their own ideas. When the films are completed, they are presented to family, friends, the community, and the producers at a screening. The filmmakers experience pride, a sense of accomplishment, social inclusion, and creativity. They are able to escape into a world limited only by their imaginations.
Q: What’s your favorite way to relax?
CN: Practicing yoga and drinking hot green tea or sitting for 15 minutes in a wet sauna and then having a deep tissue body massage with soft music playing.
Q: What’s your big hope for how Upswell can help advance your mission?
CN: Support, assistance, and a space to share my mission and vision for SOH, which is for every pediatric and young adult cancer patient and their family to tell their story and artistically express themselves through filmmaking and film production through free-of-cost film instruction classes that engages participants as a means to alleviate and escape from the trauma, depression, and isolation of their illness.
Q: If you could walk away from Upswell with one big thing (and idea, relationship, new skill, etc.), what would it be?
CN: Contacts that I could build a stronger relationship with that can help me grow my vision and mission for SOH.
Q: What would make the world a better place?
CN: Having SOH programs available to all who are going through and recovering from their trauma. I believe we can and should do more for the thousands of kids who are diagnosed with cancer every year. SOH is the kind of program hospitals and other health organizations can embrace to lighten the burden for more patients and their families.
I have a vision (double vision, actually!). The fight against cancer is fought on many fronts. SOH wages a battle against depression, isolation, and anxiety. Working together, this battle can and will be won!