Writing has been a bit of a struggle this week, so I thought I’d share why: I can’t stop thinking about breast cancer.
Tomorrow is the DC Race for the Cure, the annual event that raises money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I’m not walking or running in the pink-a-thon, but I am supporting a team called “Sheryl’s Flowers.” It’s named after my dear friend and public radio pal Sheryl Flowers, producer for the Tavis Smiley Show. Sheryl lost her battle against Triple Negative breast cancer almost exactly one year ago, at the age of 42. Tavis Smiley and Clark Atlanta University recently named a journalism scholarship in her honor. The anniversary of Sheryl’s death is lurking in the corners of my mind, creeping into view and demanding notice.
Also over the past year, my beloved neighbor, a mother in her 30s, has been undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments to fight breast cancer. She had to stop nursing her daughter sooner than expected. I’ve watched as she lost a breast, her hair and a lot of weight along the way. Her prognosis is good and for this I am thankful.
Meanwhile, one of my very best friends is headed to the hospital this month to have an elective double mastectomy, following a hysterectomy last year. A 46-year-old who has tested positive for the BRCA mutation (a predictor of ovarian and breast cancer), she has spent two years preparing emotionally for the decision to lose her breasts to save her life. She doesn’t have cancer but preventive surgery is her best hope to avoid it. As the operation nears, we are all feeling a mixture of fear, relief, anticipation and doubt.
With breast cancer on my mind, I’ve looked to public media for some sources of information and inspiration.
In the Family is a powerful Emmy-nominated documentary film that aired on the PBS series POV, following a 2008 premiere at AFI’s SilverDocs. Filmmaker Joanna Rudnick shares her journey as she grapples with the implications of inheriting the “breast cancer gene.” Co-produced by Kartemquin and ITVS, the film asks the question “How much would you sacrifice to survive?”
In the Family also launched a vibrant outreach campaign that enabled viewers to join online forums, share their stories, access resources on genetic testing for breast cancer, and get engaged in the issue. This powerful film is available through POV’s lending library to those who want to host a community screening or use it along with reading lists, discussion guides, or lesson plans for the classroom.
The other major public media project on breast cancer I’m aware is by award-winning producers Dmae Roberts, Barbara Bernstein, and the Breast Cancer Radio Arts Project (BC-Rap) at KBOO-FM in Portland, Oregon.
Breast Cancer Monologues is an hour-long collage of women’s stories of struggle and survival. The project invited women to participate in writing workshops to help them express their experiences. You can listen to an excerpt of the Breast Cancer Monologues here.
Now that I’ve taken the blogger’s prerogative, connecting the dots between my personal and professional worlds – between my friends fighting breast cancer, and the public media productions that echo their experiences, I feel a little better. I’m ready to climb out of the cleavage, make that mammogram appointment, and get on with my work.
Can you think of a time when a public radio or TV program tapped into your reality or helped you over a hurdle?