An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Letisia Marquez | March 26, 2018
Breakthroughs - Cary Presant 256x256 Cary Presant, M.D.
Outstanding films can motivate audiences to have conversations with loved ones about difficult topics, including health problems. But films that depict complex health issues are not as widely attended as action-packed or star-studded films.
Five years ago, Cary Presant, M.D., a City of Hope hematologist and medical oncologist, decided to change that. He created the HOME (Health Oriented Motion-picture Excellence) Academy Award to recognize a year’s best health-themed films.
“Films dealing with health issues help focus our attention on prevention and treatment of problems that can challenge us, as well as our families and friends,” Presant said. “The films nominated for the HOME Award can help us make decisions leading to healthier, longer and happier lives. So it is appropriate for us to honor the filmmakers, and in doing so, further promote development of films with health themes.”
This year, "The Big Sick," a comedy which is based on a true story, received Presant’s HOME Award. The film is about Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young woman who suddenly falls into a coma, and how her boyfriend, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a comedian, and her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) cope with her mysterious illness. The film also deals with such issues as interracial dating.
Presant shares why "The Big Sick" stood out among this year’s nominated films.

1) Why did you select "The Big Sick" for this year’s HOME Award?

The characters in the film are faced with a devastating situation, and one that no one ever wants to confront. Emily, a graduate student, suddenly falls into a coma and at first, her illness is a mystery. But thanks to Emily’s medical staff, and a family that is advocating for Emily, her medical team is able to figure out Emily’s illness and how to treat it.
The film truly impresses the importance of patients – and their families – communicating effectively with their doctors and nurses. It’s essential that patients pay attention to even minor symptoms and make sure their physician addresses them promptly.
Another aspect of the film that stands out is at one point, the parents want to transfer Emily to a higher-ranked research hospital than the community hospital she’s at; Emily is very sick and they can’t move her and she ends up being fine because they diagnose her disease. This scene illustrates how a community hospital can provide excellent medical care, not just a big research hospital.

2) You gave the HOME award to actor Adrien Dev. Tell us what that experience was like.

It was exciting! I was invited to present a golden statuette ‘live’ on the red carpet at the Roger Neal Style Hollywood Oscar Viewing Dinner at the Hollywood Museum, which attracted such actors as Lou Gossett Jr., Jon Voight, Paul Sorvino, Margaret O’Brien, Lou Ferrigno and the Pointer Sisters. We were just a short walk away from the Dolby Theater, where the 90th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony were held. More importantly, we received some great press as a result and I hope this encourages filmmakers and writers to continue to make quality films about health and spread positive messages about health prevention and education. 

3) What other films were nominated for the HOME Award? 

“The Hero” is a film about an aging movie star who develops cancer and addresses how much a patient needs support during a struggle against life-threatening disease. It reminds us that if you face a serious illness, always have your own support group of family and friends who can help you fight the disease.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” was a TV movie release but I included it because it deals with the important issue of the rights a patient has over all her/his tissue, including even cancerous tissue that might be removed by a surgeon. Since Johns Hopkins never obtained permission for it to use the patient’s cells and then profited from the use of the cells, it raises the still current problem of the responsibility that even a prestigious research center has to protect an individual’s rights and privacy. This patient’s cells (HeLa cells) have resulted in drugs to cure cancer.
The takeaway: if you are going to have an operation to remove cancer, ask if your tissue will be used in research and ask how you can give permission to legally and ethically use the tissue and still preserve your privacy. 
“Blind” is a film that portrays the ways in which a man who becomes blind is able to have a fulfilling and gratifying life in the face of challenge. People who are faced with blindness should get maximum rehabilitation and training, and of course, the emotional support of family and friends.
“Family Man” portrayed a high stress, head-hunter businessman who faces acute leukemia in the family and has to decide between job and family obligations. It reminded me of something that I emphasize to patients faced with a life-threatening disease: always ask about standard therapy as well as experimental therapy on a clinical trial.
I encourage everyone to take the time to see these films and see how their portrayals can help you deal with family or personal issues.

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