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By Pete Vonder Haar | January 23, 2006

The incidence of cancer in children is on the rise, and while survivability rates overall have increased to roughly 75%, the ordeal the kids and their families have to go through remains almost unbearable. Documentarians Steven Bognar and Julia Reichart were given unrestricted access to five Cincinnati families whose children were diagnosed with various cancers. They followed the children’s cases for six years, recording each relapse, remission, and – where applicable – recovery. The end result, “A Lion in the House,” is a fascinating and exhausting look at how families cope with cancer.

Clocking in at almost four hours, “A Lion in the House” requires a pretty hefty emotional investment, to say nothing of the time involved. Where one might be able to view a regular length documentary with some sense of detachment, the amount of time spent with each child here, as well as the ability to follow the cases for such a lengthy period, guarantees you won’t leave unmoved. And while the kids are – by and large – resilient and upbeat, the cycle of treatment, biopsies, and spinal taps are often more than they can take, to say nothing of the humiliation of being fed through a tube, left behind your classmates, and being forced to wear Depends at the age of 19. And that’s before getting into the roller coaster the families endure from diagnosis through chemo and on to a future filled with the possibility of relapses and experimental treatments.

Bognar and Reichart also take us inside Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and introduce us to the doctors and nurses who take care of the kids, doing everything from socializing with some of them outside the hospital, to discussing DNR orders with the parents, to attending funerals. Their hard work and commitment to these families completely pays off. “A Lion in the House” is a stirring and often heartbreaking look at every parent’s nightmare and how a select few cope with it.

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