Glenwood High senior finds 'deeper meaning' with capstone film project |

Glenwood High senior finds ‘deeper meaning’ with capstone film project

AJ Adams, left, and Bridget Steel, one of the cancer patients Adams interviewed for his capstone project documentary, "Connections — A Deeper Meaning of Cancer."

Who: Glenwood Springs High School student A.J. Adams, filmmaker

What: Senior Capstone project, “Connections — A Deeper Meaning of Cancer”

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 17

Where: The Orchard, 110 Snowmass Drive, Carbondale

Cost: Free by signing up via Adams’ EventBrite page

A Glenwood Springs High School student’s family cancer experience has turned into an extra-special — and extra-personal — senior capstone project.

When A.J. Adams’ mother, Catherine, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, he wasn’t sure how to deal with the news. What he did know is that he wanted to be part of his mom’s journey.

“I started doing some of my own research to try to understand the process my mom was going through,” Adams, who was a sophomore at the time, said.

When Catherine began cancer treatments at the Calaway Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, A.J. and his sisters were given a tour of the facility.

“It showed me how positive and upbeat everyone is, and it changed my whole opinion on it, so I decided to get more involved,” he said.

That fall, he formed a Rally the Valley team, the GWS Ballers, inviting some of his GSHS basketball teammates to help raise money through the annual event for the integrative therapy services offered to cancer patients at the center. 

This fall marked Adams’ third year organizing a Rally the Valley team. During that span of time they’ve raised over $3,000.

Last year, during a visit to the Cancer Center, A.J. befriended Tom Sullivan, who was going through chemotherapy treatments.

“I started talking to him about what he was going through and just trying to get his mind off the whole cancer thing, and bring him into a more positive light,” Adams said. “That helped me a lot, because I learned what it’s like to connect with someone and have them open up their life to me.”

He decided to build on that experience and turn it into his senior capstone project. 

The Roaring Fork School District requires all seniors to complete a capstone — a type of hands-on, experiential, real-life project — as a requirement for graduation.

A.J. Adams and Michael Taylor, who graduated from high school last year and one of the people interviewed in the film.

The final product, a 17-minute film documentary titled “Connections — A Deeper Meaning of Cancer,” will be screened for free at 2 p.m. Sunday at The Orchard in Carbondale.

Adams started working on the project during his junior year, lining up interviews and following cancer patients and their caregivers through their cancer experience.

A necessary aspect of a capstone project is to work directly with community experts for guidance. Adams worked with Jo Bershenyi, manager of the integrated therapy services at the Cancer Center, and Rodney O’Byrne, who joined in to help with the technical details.

Bershenyi said it’s rare for children of cancer patients to show the level of interest Adams did.

“When he asked me to help, the answer was ‘absolutely, yes,’” Bershenyi said. “But I also told him we would need to have some pretty brutal conversations about cancer.

“I’m in it every day, and not everyone gets out of it,” she said. “That’s part of it, and he’s seeing that in his journey.” 

A.J. Adams and Tucker Stinson. Tucker was diagnosed when he was an infant and is a survivor.

Among the patients Adams engaged with for the project was a young boy named Tucker Stinson. Immediately, there was a connection, Adams related.

“He’d had cancer since before he could really remember, so I talked to him and his dad about it together,” he said.

The caregiver stories are equally compelling, he said.

“It definitely helped me process it, because I was able to learn about how other people handled things,” he said. “Every person I interviewed was super positive, and they were all continuing on with their lives and still making a difference in the community.”

“I want people to leave with the idea that cancer isn’t life-defining,” Adams said of the Sunday film screening. “It doesn’t shut down who you are and doesn’t stop you from being you — as long as you find support, connect with other people, keep humor in your life and always find a way to smile.”

Several survivors are included in the film, including his mom. Some of the subjects have terminal diagnoses. And one, longtime community organizer and cancer support coach, Nancy Reinisch, died earlier this year.

The screening is free, but Adams asks that people sign up at his EventBrite page:

He also has a Facebook page, connectionsadeepermeaningofcancer, as well as a website:

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