“This is one of the most important projects that Big Coat has ever under taken,” says BC Executive and Producer Maria Armstrong. “If it gets one woman – a woman of any age – to get a mammogram, then we have accomplished what we set out to do.”
A diagnosis of breast cancer for women in their twenties or early thirties is becoming increasingly common and is much more aggressive. It is unexpected, devastating and quickly consumes every aspect of their lives. But what happens when you’ve got so many other things competing for attention alongside your life-threatening illness – dating, marriage, school, new careers, pregnancy, raising children?
The documentary follows the personal journeys of 35-year-old Clare, a happily married teacher and mother, Crystal, 34, a vibrant casting director and mother of a toddler, 30-year-old Janelle, who is planning the wedding of her dreams, Sylvia, 25, a young world traveler trying to find her passion as she dabbles in modeling, and recent graduate Claudia, 24, newly-engaged and looking forward to starting a career, marriage and parenthood. These women have too much to live for. Lumpectomies, mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation, egg extraction, treatment schedules – who’s got the time?
JANELLE: I heard about the project through a group called Rethink Breast cancer. I was doing some volunteer work with the organization and their Programs Manager emailed me to tell me that Big Coat was looking for young women to participate in the documentary.
SYLVIA: I got connected with the documentary through Rethink Breast Cancer, they had known about the project and thought I would be a good fit for the doc. I had started a blog, was busy busy with life, and my attitude that I wasn’t going to let “this” phase me or stop me from doing what I wanted to do fit nicely with the theme of the documentary.
CLAUDIA: I was approached by Sunnybrook hospital, they informed me there was a documentary being made about young women with breast cancer, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to share my story. So I contacted Big Coat to express my interest and everything just started happening from there.
CRYSTAL: It actually came to me. Catherine read my national article that i did for sunnybrook and called me into her office to ask if my story needed to be told, and I said “absolutely!”
CLARE: I read about the documentary on the Canadian Breast Cancer Network e-bulletin. I decided to contact the production company because I felt my story offered something unique for the documentary as I was diagnosed when I was pregnant.
HM: What has been the biggest highlight in you being part of this documentary?
JANELLE: For me it is knowing that the documentary has the ability to help someone and also to raise awareness that young women can and do get breast cancer. I think the documentary will also give viewers a real and honest look into the lives of 5 women who are fighting the disease. For me, participating has also helped me heal. I feel good in knowing that my experience and my struggles may help another person, and to me that is a very positive thing that has come out of my cancer experience.
SYLVIA: I think the biggest highlight is sharing my story. Letting the world into my life, perhaps things that I don’t share on my blog can be a little nerve wracking but that’s life. I’m big into film and television, so having my story on air is super exciting.
CLAUDIA: The chance to let viewers and other people affected by breast cancer see the day-to-day life of someone dealing with it first hand has been the highlight for me. There is a certain image people have of cancer patients, and I wanted to break that idea, and project strength and positivity. Also, being able to capture such a difficult time for me is something I’m grateful for, because I’ll always look back and remember how strong I can be.
CRYSTAL: The amazing support and kindness of others. It is important to stress to my daughter the strengh it takes to face this horrible disease that she may have the cancer gene for. It was able to document a part of my life for her.
CLARE: One of the biggest highlights for me was the opportunity to document my journey as things transpired. The ability to take this experience and bring it together to share it with others was very important to me.
JANELLE: Having been diagnosed with breast cancer so young has made me very aware of my own mortality which is something most people are not faced with in their 20s. It has made me re-evaluate the way I eat, the products I use, and the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. The experience has also made me appreciate the people I have in my life a lot more and has made my bond with a lot of people stronger. I am grateful every day to be alive and to be healthy. The thought of getting old no longer scares me, it excites me.
HM: I understand that at such a young age, your work and now your experience battling breast cancer have impacted how you may view femininity or what it means to be a woman. Sylvia, can you share with us how your views have or have not changed since your diagnosis and mastectomy?
SYLVIA: Before diagnosis I considered myself to be fairly attractive by society’s standards. It’s hard to look in the mirror when you’re going through treatments and not recognize the person staring back at you. Especially hard when that person doesn’t have hair on her head and barely any eyelashes or eyebrows. My experience definitely made me feel less attractive at times. It sometimes made me feel insecure like I wasn’t going to get the part I had auditioned for because I was wearing a wig, or that a client wouldn’t want me to model because I didn’t look like I use to. Being on the other side, definitely made me question why we are so hard on people who do not fit the mold of what society deems as beautiful. The standards for physical beauty are still there, they haven’t changed. I would say I am less prone to judge how a person may look. However, what makes a woman beautiful is much more than her physical looks. Throughout my experiences I have been able to work on letting my inward beauty shine when the physical beauty just wasn’t there. Yes, I wrestled with the physical aspect of things, but I’ve learned that we are much more than how we look. At the same time, I would lie if I said outward beauty isn’t important to me. I always try to look my best no matter how crazy I feel inside, but beauty is many things. Beauty is strength, beauty is resiliency, beauty is woman. We are all beautiful in our own way, the secret is appreciating that beauty.
HM: Claudia, how challenging has been for you to fund your treatment; especially since Herceptin is not covered by insurance?
CLAUDIA: The government wouldn’t cover it for me but I was insured under a personal plan which is how we paid for it, so it was okay. The point I think they try and make in the film is that for those who don’t have coverage, this drug is 20k and that obviously is a huge problem. If we weren’t covered however, we would have done whatever it took to pay for it, because my health is priority. I would not have opted to NOT get it just because we couldnt afford it, which is probably something people don’t decide to do.
PRODUCERS: The Filmmakers selected these five phenomenal young women because they offer a perspective that is not often heard because breast cancer is primarily seen as a disease that only affects our mothers and our grandmothers. A diagnosis of breast cancer in your twenties or early thirties is unexpected and devastating. It takes over, and quickly consumes every aspect of a young woman’s life and given their age this disease can be more aggressive. But what happens when you’ve got so many other things to do – dating, marriage, school, careers, pregnancy, children? These issues are brought to the forefront as Claudia, Sylvia, Crystal, Janelle and Clare negotiate their way through their diagnosis.
After this premieres on the W Network, what are the plans for the film?
Catherine Fogarty and Maria Armstrong.