Meet Christopher Marlett, Stage IV Survivor

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Stories of Hope
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Why LucasFilm/ILM Commemorated March as Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Christopher Marlett was 43 years old when he got the shock of a lifetime in June 2019: he had stage IV colorectal cancer. An otherwise young, healthy professional working in the visual effects sector of the film industry, the diagnosis caught him by surprise. He had recently switched jobs and was waiting for his benefits to activate before calling a doctor to look into his intense lower back pains.

Although his mother, a breast and colon cancer survivor, had encouraged him to see a doctor and pay close attention to his health, a phobia of needles kept him away. But once the pain became intolerable and his coverage began, he pushed past his fears. Doctors didn’t waste time upon hearing his symptoms and family history; they insisted he get a colonoscopy. During the procedure, it was discovered that his colon was nearly 100% blocked. Several tests later determined he had late-stage disease. He quickly began treatment, a regimen that continues to this day.

As he worked through accepting his diagnosis and what the “new normal” looked like as a metastatic colorectal cancer patient, he set a couple of goals: learn how to ride a motorcycle and engage the film industry in awareness of the disease.

Born to Ride

“When you first get diagnosed with cancer, your perspectives change about what’s important and what’s not,” Marlett said. “I always wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Once I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t let anything hold me back.”

During his off weeks from treatment, Marlett began studying for the motorcycle exam to obtain a license. He passed and not long after, bought his first bike. He recently upgraded to a custom-built bike, something that’s giving him a lot of hope and reasons to look forward.

“A lot of people treat riding a motorcycle like therapy, and I can see why,” he said. “You’re out on your own and your body is braking, shifting, balancing. Your entire body is going through a workout and you’re constantly thinking and changing to environments. It does help you deal with calming yourself down and enjoying life.”

The motorcycle provided Marlett with a much-needed escape, but he didn’t completely unplug and ride away. As he’s fought through several rounds of treatment, he’s stayed in close contact with his colleagues in the film community. He knows his access to some of the world’s leading storytellers could create a huge impact.

Engaging the Film Community

The passing of actor Chadwick Boseman got the entire globe talking about colorectal cancer, especially Marlett and his colleagues at LucasFilm/Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).

“His passing hit close to home,” Marlett explained. “We were both diagnosed with colorectal cancer. When Chadwick’s character, Black Panther, was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he showed up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was my first film credit under ILM.”

While Boseman’s shocking death surprised many communities, those who worked with him on the films were just as shaken up. And although Boseman kept quiet and wasn’t forthcoming about his situation, for reasons Marlett completely understood, Marlett felt compelled to take a different approach to his diagnosis. He wanted to make a positive, public impact.

“In visual effects, we help bring characters to life,” he said. “I noticed that Chadwick’s passing created a big opportunity to bring life to another issue—awareness about colon cancer within the film industry.” 

Although Marlett had transitioned to working for Digital Domain, another digital effects studio, at the time of his diagnosis, he was still deeply connected to his friends and colleagues at LucasFilm/ILM. Their passion, personalities and platform made them his preferred partner for colorectal cancer awareness and education. He had also connected online with several other groups for patient support, but when it came time to find a nonprofit who could help LucasFilm/ILM with awareness, he reached out to Fight Colorectal Cancer.

“I was looking for a group who could have a big impact—a group in the public with an in-your-face, ‘let’s get the government on board’ approach,” Marlett explained.

Catalyzing conversations quickly sprang up between Marlett and Anjee Davis, the president of Fight Colorectal Cancer. Before long, the two had convened leaders from Fight CRC and LucasFilm/ILM who began brainstorming about how to make an impact together.

Speaker Series at LucasFilm/ILM

A first, simple step came together this March when the groups hosted a Speaker Series for the LucasFilm/ILM staff. The virtual event told the story of several survivors within the LucasFilm/ILM community and opened their eyes to how prevalent colorectal cancer is—from the famous Chadwick Boseman to the people they pass in the hallways and online message every day.

“I feel like every time we have a meeting, the numbers keep growing and we’re learning more about how this is secretly affecting others,” Marlett said.

Dr. Fola May from Fight CRC’s Board of Directors and Health Equity Committee spoke during the Speaker Series about the importance of screening, second opinions, and knowing your family history.

Also a survivor, Elisa Kamimoto from the LucasFilm/ILM team, shared her story during the event and expressed her gratitude for the way Marlett, a beloved alum, was courageously using his experience to bring about awareness.

“We’ve all been touched by the courage with which Chris has faced his battle and his genuine desire to destigmatize colon cancer, evangelize about the importance of testing, and draw concern for young people who are facing this disease,” Kamimoto said. “Chris inspired us to commemorate March as Colon Cancer Awareness Month as a company and present this panel as part of our Speakers Series, with the aim of demystifying the disease and encouraging people to get tested.”

The Speaker Series at LucasFilm/ILM that was focused on colorectal cancer raised many eyebrows and caused several colleagues to do exactly what Marlett hoped. Feedback following the event showed participants were discussing screening, learning about the signs/symptoms, discussing family history and risk, and dreaming about how to save lives with future education and awareness. As a bonus, the company even sent special gift packages to some kids and teens fighting colorectal cancer.

Out of everyone who benefited from the collaboration, Marlett may have been the most pleased.

“Hopefully by creating an outlet to bring colorectal cancer to the conversation table, we will help people who may become affected by this disease over the years, and help people avoid or catch it early,” he said. “I hope at some point, the public awareness will broaden, and colon cancer will be represented and treated equally amongst the other cancers.”

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