Wednesday evening, many PBS stations across the country will broadcast the first part of a new documentary that explores the impact of childhood cancer on five Ohio families. A Lion in the House takes an unflinching look at a subject that many viewers may find uncomfortable.
Filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar intimately chronicle a period of six years as they follow the families in their battles with cancer. The idea for A Lion in the House came from the head oncologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, but Reichert had personal experience with the subject matter: Her own daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age 16, and recovered.
"I was a mom who sat by my daughter as she got sicker and sicker," Reichert says. "And for a whole year, my whole life was focused on being her mother. So, I knew what it was like for all those moms."
Bognar and Reichert were given complete access to the hospital, which had no editorial say over the final film. But the filmmakers were given help in locating families for the story.
"A lot of families said no," Bognar says. "But, a couple dozen were interested, and we gradually met with and talked to between 12 and 15 families. We actually started filming eight families, briefly, and then we really connected with the five who are in the film."
The day before the documentary's premiere, Julia Reichert was herself diagnosed with cancer. After the screening, she flew back to Ohio to begin chemotherapy.
Reichert says that soon after the shock of her announcement, the families in the movie turned their attention to her. One parent featured in the film, Marietha Woods, stays in touch. Woods says she is glad more people will get to see the film and understand that it's not just a story about suffering and death.
"I just hope this movie [results in] everybody knowing that you don't have to do this alone, because I never knew kids got sick like that. I thought cancer was a grown people's thing," Woods says.
David C. Barnett is a reporter for WCPN in Cleveland.
Tim Woods and his mother, Marietha, share their story in A Lion in the House.