By Saul Wisnia
Rayquan “Ray” Fregeau’s smile lights up a room, even after five days of chemotherapy. His upbeat personality infuses his poetry, but until recently the 17-year-old patient at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center had trouble putting into words what he’s gone through since his February cancer diagnosis, especially when it came to telling friends about his experience.
That’s where the camera came in. Sarah Brand, PhD, a psychologist who meets with pediatric solid tumor patients like Fregeau – who has stage IV rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer – suggested that the teenager borrow a camera from the Betty Ann Blum and Marjorie Blum Pediatric Resource Room and document one of his five-day chemo cycles, with a focus on showing what he had the most difficulty describing. Fregeau loved the idea, and the result is a slideshow he created with the help of clinic Adolescent Specialist Jen Noonan and shared with his fellow ninth and tenth graders at Kipp Academy Lynn Collegiate High School.
The slideshow features images from Fregeau’s treatment as well as shots of him swimming and enjoying a Boston Red Sox game, all set to a song Fregeau selected entitled “You Will Know” by Black Men Unite. Brand and Fregeau played the slideshow for his classmates, which sparked a series of questions like “Can you still do sports?” and “What will it look like when they take out your Port-A-Cath?” For both patient and caregiver, it was the intended response.
“I asked the kids, ‘What do you think cancer is?’ and then I just turned it on,” says Fregeau of that first screening. “I wanted them to see the good along with the bad, and that while it’s not easy, I get through it. The reaction was so cool.”
Noonan hopes that additional teen patients at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s decide to produce new media projects. “It was very moving for all of us to see Ray’s experience here through his lens,” says Noonan. “It feels natural for teenagers to communicate through photography, music, and technology, and their peers respond well to it.”