Screenwriter and Faculty Member Keith Giglio to Recount Navigating Cancer Diagnoses and Hollywood at Impact Symposium

The idea behind Keith Giglio’s presentation at the Spring Newhouse Impact Symposium came to the associate professor while he was lying in a gurney at Upstate University Hospital.  

Keith Giglio headshot
Keith Giglio

A screenwriter who teaches in the television, radio and film program, Giglio will recount his two cancer diagnoses and how they compared to the ups and downs of navigating life in Los Angeles during his talk, “Lights Camera Cancer aka How Hollywood Prepared Me for Cancer,” at 3:10 p.m. on Friday, April 21. The symposium, sponsored by the Newhouse School’s Office of Research and Creative Activity, will be held in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium in Newhouse 3 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  

“I remember thinking if I survived the ups and downs of Hollywood, I can survive this,” Giglio said.  

Giglio is one of 11 presenters at the symposium, which will showcase the school’s wide range of student and faculty research and creative activities, creating awareness and encouraging communications and collaboration at Newhouse and across campus. 

Giglio’s most recent produced credits include “Reba McEntire’s Christmas in Tune,” “Christmas Reservations” and “A Very Nutty Christmas,” the latter of which was produced with his wife, Juliet Aires Giglio. Previous credits include “A Cinderella Story” (producer) and its sequels, as well as “Pizza My Heart,” “Joshua” and “Tarzan.”  

In addition, he has written three academic books, “Writing the Comedy Blockbuster,” “Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games,” with Robert Denton Bryant and “Proof of Concept, Writing the Short Script,” along with the romantic comedy novel, “The Summer of Christmas.” A second romantic comedy book, “The Trouble with Tinsel,” comes out this year. 

Below, Giglio answers more questions about his work.

What is your research about? 

My presentation is entitled “How Hollywood Prepared Me for Cancer.” It is an excerpt from a book of the same name I am writing.  I lived in Hollywood — aka L.A. — for 20 years writing and producing movies. I never thought that such an uncertain experience would prepare me for cancer. 

Where did you come up with the idea? 

On a gurney in Upstate Hospital. I remember thinking if I survived the ups and downs of Hollywood, I can survive this. I also wondered what happened to my hair. And then along the way, I started comparing so many aspects of what goes on in making a movie to treating cancer.  

What kind of cancer did you have? 

First, I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I had a 13-millimeter mass growing at the base of my spine. And I thought that was just back pain. And then following six rounds of chemo, 25 consecutive days of radiation, I got through it. But then a few months later, I couldn’t play my guitar. I couldn’t hold a glass. And I couldn’t touch my giant nose. I basically had a mini stroke because now I had brain cancer. So then, I did 10 days straight of whole brain radiation. And that seemed to wipe everything out.  

When you learned you had cancer, what was that moment like? 

It was kind of like a smoking gun. I was in so much pain from what I thought was just a benign tumor or back pain as I had had back problems before. But at that moment I just immediately thought of my two daughters and how I’m going to tell them and tell my parents. But also, I was oddly confident. I said ‘Okay, whatever it is, I’ll get through it.’ 

During your cancer journey, what stood out as something that you would experience in Hollywood or movies? 

After I got through the initial lymphoma, after six rounds of chemo and 25 days of radiation, most people think, okay, you’re done. But in Hollywood or in any movie, you always have a “whammo.” Like every 10 pages, something happens. Some big, emotional thing. It’s the midpoint. So, when that brain cancer came, I said, ‘OK, I was expecting this.’ I was expecting the whammo. Here we go again. 

How are you doing now? 

I’m doing well. I’ve been cancer free for eight years now, so that’s good. So far no flare ups, and I’m happy about that. 

Why was this important for you to share as research? 

I wanted to talk about how you have to always believe in yourself and that your ambition always has to exceed your ability. When my back was against the wall during my L.A. writing days, I always believed that something good would come about and I will get through and come out better for the experience. I felt the same way during my cancer journey. 

When is your book coming out? 

I have no idea when it’s coming out. I’m stacked with a couple of projects that are ahead of it. It’s kind of like landing a plane. 

What do you hope people will take away from your presentation? 

Positivity. We need more of it.