LEWISTON — For eight years, Ramsey Tripp watched his mother battle breast cancer.
Some years were good — easy treatment, remission. Other years were bad — metastasis, hair loss, a colostomy bag. It led the 39-year-old to one conclusion.
"Cancer sucks," he said.
With help from actor Patrick Dempsey, Tripp, the owner of Trade-mark R Productions in Lewiston, hopes to make it suck a little less.
Over the next several months, Tripp will create "The Peloton Project," a documentary that will follow a group of nearly 40 Cancervive Peloton Project cyclists as they bike relay-style in October for 10 days, 24 hours a day, from Alberta, Canada, to Lewiston, where they will ride in the Dempsey Challenge. Throughout the film, he will weave in stories of cancer survivors, caregivers and a newly-diagnosed patient, showing their journeys as he shows the journey of the cyclists.
"Ultimately, what I hope is that people can see this and see a different side of cancer," Tripp said. "Maybe it takes a little bit of the teeth out of cancer. It doesn't say, 'Oh, cancer's not hard.' It definitely will show that cancer is hard and it sucks. But ultimately, together we can do this; we can have meaningful lives. We can still do things as a survivor, as a caregiver, as people who maybe had a loved one who did die."
Dempsey, a Buckfield native who helped establish the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing at Central Maine Medical Center, has agreed to serve as executive producer of the documentary, offering input and fundraising support. He will have the final say over the film's content in post production.
The annual Dempsey Challenge raises money for the Dempsey Center with cycling and other events.
Laura Davis, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma 23 years ago and has since battled multiple forms of cancer, will serve as producer. She will be responsible for promotion, fundraising and logistics.
Tripp will direct. "The Peloton Project" will be one of his biggest projects. And his most personal.
Tripp's mother died of cancer March 6.
"I wanted my mom to see the final product," he said, struggling not to cry. "That's not going to happen."
He came up with the idea for the documentary last fall after meeting the founder of the Cancervive Peloton Project and learning about the annual endurance trek. For the past seven years, cyclists have traveled from Calgary to a U.S. city hosting a Livestrong charity bike ride.
At first, Tripp told the event coordinator he should get someone to videotape the ride. Then he thought about doing it.
"I just couldn't get it out of my head," he said. "My initial thought of making sure someone could film their little journey became a full-blown documentary overnight. I actually stayed up that night writing a proposal. It was all written down on scratch paper at 2 a.m."
He took his idea to Davis. Tripp's production company often shoots commercials and other promotional videos, and the two had worked together through Rinck Advertising, where Davis is vice president. He knew she was a cancer survivor.
She loved the idea of the documentary, with its emotional connection of the cycling journeys and people's cancer journeys.
"The human spirit is compelled to see what they're made of," she said. "Some of the people in this film have chosen to see what they're made of. And some people in this film have no choice, but they will see what they're made of because that's how tough treatment is."
Tripp believes it will cost about $600,000 to make the film. That's including trips to Calgary, hiring a crew, renting equipment and buying a Can-Am Spyder, a vehicle that's part motorcycle, part ATV and perfect for filming the cyclists during the trek. He recently posted a request for donations on Kickstarter, a site that allows people to pledge support for projects and grassroots causes. He asked for $20,000 to get started. So far, he's raised about $2,500. The Kickstarter request will end April 6.
The rest of the film's funding will have to come from corporate sponsors, grants and other donors. Tripp has already paid out of pocket for trips to Calgary.
When the documentary is finished, Tripp hopes it might be picked up by Discovery Health or another cable channel. Or, he hopes, it might be accepted by independent film festivals.
But what he'd really like to see is doctors handing it to newly diagnosed cancer patients.
"Saying, 'Here, there's hope,'" he said. "And they can take that video and go home and watch it and realize a lot of the time nowadays it doesn't mean it's a death sentence. Yeah, it sucks and it's hard, but there's still hope. That's really what I want people to be able to see, is this hope in this journey; this really, really hard challenge, this terrible disease — but there really is hope."