Meet James Ragan, founder of the Triumph Over Kid Cancer charity. At 13, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – bone cancer – for which there is little hope for a cure. Googling his name will, no doubt, give you articles upon articles which tell his story. However, hearing it from himself in the powerful documentary film Until 20 as he’s undergoing treatment, with all his ups and downs, is quite a different experience.
Until 20 is an affecting portrait of a young man who refuses to give up, even in the face of certain death. Sure, we see a lot of fictional portrayals of people like this in action movies and otherwise, but we’re always let off the hook by overdramatization and the eventual disclaimer at the end credits which says “This is a work of fiction.” James doesn’t need any of that; all he needs is for someone to help him tell his story, which the directors Geraldine Moriba-Meadows and Jamila Paksima so effectively do, without hesitation or pulling punches.
We’re taken through James’ life from the moment he was initially diagnosed at age 13 after knee troubles forced him to withdraw from a tennis tournament. So begins a different tournament for him, with sadly only one surefire winner. Through home video footage, we see James’ early stages of his fight against osteosarcoma, overcoming it in some instances and suffering defeat in others.
Throughout all of it, James’ spirit never flags; he keeps his will to live ahead of him, and he also turns his suffering into a fight for not just himself, but for others with this disease. His gentle ways endear him to his hospital staff and to everyone around him, as he goes beyond himself to make sure others are comforted and lifted up emotionally and spiritually.
Not only do we get to walk with James, we do so also with his family, who can only stand by and watch. As a parent, this was the theme that affected me greatly; you want so much to fix what’s wrong with your child or your sibling, but you can’t. Being helpless while James goes through hell wears greatly on his family, and we can see it with every drive to the hospital, every pill or injection taken, and every bad diagnosis.
Yet, like James, they maintain their dignity and their spirits as best as they can. Until 20 feels more like a celebration of James’ life, which is much the way he lives and breathes. His biggest disappointment is not being able to experience the things life has to offer and not being able to enjoy his time left. One of the decisions he has to make is to either participate in an experimental treatment or have six months left to live, and he makes his decision based on the prospect of “a good time” versus knowing what’s in store for him with treatment.
For all the darkness that cancer brings to James and his family, so much good is seen being done, from how James interacts with fellow patients to the strides he takes regarding the need for funding for child cancer research. It’s disheartening to hear medical professionals talking about being hamstrung by the fact that precious little can be done unless it can generate revenue in a scene that is sure to make you angry, but it’s fortunately tempered by the constant goodwill James fosters in all around him.
Until 20 is a beautifully shot and edited look at James Ragan and his family, and it is a loud call to arms for those wanting to get involved in the fight to end cancer. James pushed for change in this field with every spare breath he could muster, and his fight is not over. To learn more, please visit http://triumphoverkidcancer.org/.
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