Written by: Karamie Sullivan
Michael Tolbert has developed a passion for video and film-making throughout his years. The 29-year-old graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2016, where he majored in Mass Communications with a minor in Media Arts. He has been involved in the Columbia film community and multiple independent films. In 2011, he created a YouTube channel for a series of videos highlighting interesting people and places throughout the state, called Operation Adventure.
His love for video is about to take him on a new adventure. This time, the story he tells will be his own.
Tolbert said he felt himself getting sick, but thought it could be from working and traveling too much. “I started filming myself the day before I got my diagnosis. It was one of those things where I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I just had that feeling,” he said. “The next day, I got the results.” Tolbert was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia August 10. It was found in 90 percent of his bone marrow, but has not yet spread to his blood stream. He said he was in a state of shock after he heard the news. “I’m 29-years-old, I never thought I would get leukemia. And a type that affects children and elderly people, not in between.”
He began searching on Google and YouTube to see if he could find other people who talked about their experiences with the cancer. There was some first-hand footage he said he found, but not much. “I kept hearing stories about people who also had it, but I thought, people aren’t putting their experiences out there,” he said. So Tolbert decided to document himself throughout the next six months, as he undergoes treatments. His first round of chemotherapy began Wednesday.
He said he realizes this documentation will reveal a very raw, emotional side of himself. “Everything I’ve done in the past with filming has been very calculated, and this isn’t. It’s in the moment, there’s no double-takes,” he said. Although he admitted it’s a bit scary to present himself in such a vulnerable state, he wants this to be the way he tells his own story as it’s happening.
“Some people have said I’m brave to do this. I don’t feel brave. I’m scared,” he said. “But if I don’t put it out there, it’s like, what good is this going to do?” Tolbert also mentioned he doesn’t want this to be a depressing documentary. He wants there to be humor and comedy in some parts, too.
One of his close friends, according to Tolbert, asked him, “why you?” Tolbert said his immediate response was, “Why not me?” He said he is maintaining that mentality in order to stay strong. “I’ve never questioned it, or questioned my faith, because that’s what’s holding me together,” he added.
The videos he takes will be compiled into “episodes” he uploads on his Operation Adventure Youtube channel and website. He has not uploaded any new footage yet, but said he’s happy it will give him something to devote his time towards, while he puts his life on hold for the next six months.
His optimism is the driving force behind seeing the project through, as he undergoes 12-hour chemo treatments for four days, every three weeks. As he laughed, he added, “It’s still an adventure, it’s just a different kind.”