‘Until 20’ Shares Courageous Story, Challenges All to Lead a Giving Life

MD Anderson News Release 10/14/2015

Like the film itself, the world premiere of “Until 20” at the Austin Film Festival will be a celebration of James Ragan’s life and his passion for family, friends, sports, a cure for childhood cancers and the mission of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The film will be screened at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30, at Austin’s historic Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave. Arrival at 4:45 p.m. is recommended as seating is limited and a full house expected.  

Hosted by MD Anderson Cancer Center, a sponsor of the 22nd Annual Austin Film Festival and supporter of the film, the premiere event spotlights Triumph Over Kid Cancer (TOKC), an organization founded by James and his sister, Mecklin, to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research.

“Until 20” is the story of Corpus Christi native James Ragan, who was diagnosed at age 13 with osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal form of bone cancer. A gifted athlete and an insightful college student with a personal outlook and philosophy beyond his years, Ragan shares the determination, support, hope and friendship that saw him through years of cancer treatment. He also opens up about an unexpected love that blooms late in his young life.

Through Ragan’s own voice in the film, he asks viewers to reflect on what life would be like if you knew it to be your last year to live. For James, that year was only his 20th.

“Until 20” was co-directed and co-written by Geraldine Moriba and Jamila Paksima.  

For Moriba, who also received treatment for a sarcoma tumor, the story was personal. She and James shared a vision to raise awareness and research funds for their orphan diseases.  

“As a sarcoma cancer survivor myself, the motivation driving me is gratitude. James’ story helps make the tragedy of every life lost to cancer clearer,” said Moriba. “He’s given me a way to help the next person.”

For Paksima, a veteran journalist and executive producer with Paksima Productions, the power of James’ story was unmistakable to her upon meeting him and his family for the first time.  

“I needed to tell James Ragan’s story because it’s about justice in health care and the power of family love. I have never met a young person who, in the face of an incurable disease, is as relentlessly positive as James Ragan. Even when life isn’t fair, we get one chance to live a good life,” said Paksima.

Although James and his family were typically private about dealing with cancer, James thought making the movie was a good idea. It gave his parents and sister hours of raw video footage that would leave nice memories after he was gone.

“More importantly, he felt that if more people gained even a little insight into the horrors of pediatric cancer and the terrible cost to society from the lives of the children who die, that people would finally make sure cancer stopped with him,” said James’ mom, Gloria. “As he said on Valentine’s Day, three days before he died, ‘I remember saying and believing that pediatric cancer was going to stop with me. Now it looks like I’m not going to see that happen. But promise me you won’t forget about me after I’m gone — that you won’t be so sad that you stop working to find a cure. Just because I didn’t make it doesn’t mean we can’t still do it. And I’d feel better knowing that someday this won’t happen to kids like me.’ ”  

Throughout the film, viewers will meet a number of James’ friends from Corpus Christi, Rice University, MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital and beyond. Friends such as Coy Dobson and Charlie Hicks, who also serve on the Board of Directors for Triumph Over Kid Cancer, speak eloquently about James’ courage, sense of humor and compassion for other patients he encountered during his cancer journey.

“The amazing thing about TOKC, to me, is it has grown to have a major impact on pediatric cancer research funding and awareness from the simple idea of a young boy,” said James’ sister, Mecklin Ragan. “Everyone involved with TOKC — from the board members to elementary school kids who raise funds or volunteer — believes that with hard work, a constant smile and boundless energy, one day we will be able to say that pediatric cancer stopped with James. ‘Until 20’ is such a moving and impactful film that I believe as people watch it, it will open their eyes and hearts to the tragic reality of pediatric cancer. And the more people understand that reality, the more they will know that it is unacceptable and the more they will help TOKC in its work to drive more funding into pediatric cancer research. Pediatric cancer has been abandoned for decades with no just cause, and this film will change that and eventually triumph over kid cancer.”

Viewers will get an in-depth view of the internal workings of MD Anderson and cancer care.  They will meet the MD Anderson physicians, nurses and team members who cared for James and supported the Ragan family. People like Valerae O. Lewis, M.D., chair of Orthopaedic Oncology;
Ara A. Vaporciyan, M.D., chair of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery; and Winston W. Huh, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, and their respective teams who came to know James and his family well during his time at MD Anderson. James, like all patients, reminds these specialists and their 21,000 colleagues of the importance of MD Anderson’s mission to eliminate cancer.

“This is a film about a special patient, who happens to be the most incredible young man I’ve ever met,” said Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson, who named Ragan the institution’s first-ever Special Ambassador. “And through James, we see the story of thousands of other patients who fight this disease every day. It adds fuel to our fire to find new and better treatments faster. We have to do better for patients like James, and we will not give up until we reach that goal line.”

For information about the film, please contact Jamila Paksima, 610/955-9215; Jamila@until20.com or Jamila@paksimaproductions.com

For “Until 20” information and trailer: http://until20.com/

For information on TOKC:  http://triumphoverkidcancer.org/