Justine Cogan of Silver Lake just had a brain tumor removed last week. She can't believe it herself.
"There was nothing that felt brain surgery-ish about it at all ... I really felt good," she said.
Cogan's amazing story of recovery began with a melanoma diagnosis. But a check of her skin today would not reveal any signs of skin cancer. Somehow, it got into her body, and her only sign was stomach pain.
"It goes intestine, lung, brain, and that's where I have tumors," she said.
Doctors removed two tumors from her intestine, but then had to take out a brain tumor growing on the left side of her brain.
Neurosurgeon Daniel Kelly, who performed the delicate surgery, credits Cogan's speedy recovery with the fact that she keeps her brain active. She's an avid reader and a writer, and that helped protect her brain function.
"People that tend to use their brains a lot tend to recover better. They're more likely to get back to their baseline than someone who is less higher functioning, and it's the principle of use it or lose it," Kelly said.
Its stories like these that inspired a series of documentaries called Neuro-Cinema. Kelly and his colleagues at the John Wayne Cancer Institute teamed up with the Topanga Film Institute, and they're offering online vignettes and free screenings of brain documentaries just to get people thinking.
"There's a tremendous need for people to I think be educated and get involved and try and support the research," Kelly said.
Cogan believes exploring new interests saved her brain.
"It's pretty remarkable what your brain can assimilate in a very short time. I mean, it's really remarkable," she said.
Cogan still has to undergo radiation for her brain tumor, and she's preparing for lung surgery on Monday.
To find out more about the film festival, visit http://www.newstjohns.org/neurocinema.aspx.