The pink ribbon and the “need for a cure” are now widely recognized in America, due in part to the help of many generous individuals and a range of corporate sponsors. Each year in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is commemorated with walks, ribbons, fundraising, and advertising. For this reason, some cynically call it Breast Cancer Industry Month. Although activists have been working to generate awareness of this disease for decades, there is an underside to the image of progress, hope, and solidarity that pervades stores and magazine pages during October—not only are rates increasing, some of the largest financial supporters may possibly be contributing to breast cancer incidence.
This strange, ironic, and unjust fact was one of the reasons I made No Family History, a film that follows one woman’s struggle with breast cancer to tell the much bigger story about everyday exposures linked to the disease. In the film, we meet scientists studying chemicals that inhabit our own homes and examining the ingredients in our cosmetics that are often linked to breast cancer. I take a closer look at Avon , one of the biggest fundraisers for breast cancer who ironically has refused to get rid of some suspect chemicals in their products even after activists have asked the company for their removal .
Of course, my film is not the first time a filmmaker has taken a close look at the breast cancer experience. My Breast (1994), My Left Breast (2000), The Breast Cancer Diaries (2005), One in Eight: Janice’s Journey (2006), and Dear Talula (2007) all tell the stories of women who face a life-threatening diagnosis and overcome a seemingly endless number of obstacles in the process of recovery. They lead us to care deeply about women with breast cancer and often set a goal for ourselves that we will somehow take part in finding a cure.
While there is a tremendous need to call attention to better treatment, support and a cure we also need to produce and promote a different genre of breast cancer film one that proposes that exposing the causes of breast cancer is equally as important as exposing the suffering that results.
Rachel’s Daughters (1997) and the short film Toxic Bust (2006) reflect this different genre. They are heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, sometimes empowering and often sobering in a way that is different from other breast cancer films. My experience making No Family History, following Robin over the last four years, has lead me to appreciate why avoiding the disease entirely is a much better deal. This is an important lesson, but one that has often been too quiet on the breast cancer agenda. As Karen Miller, a Long Island breast cancer activist says, “Prevention is the Cure.”
Every three minutes a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer. We have the power to change the statistics . Get informed and find out about bills that are pending in your state to better regulate carcinogenic chemicals. Take action and vote for officials who care about the public’s health not just corporate profits. Make the effort to choose less toxic cleaning products, use organic rather than synthetic fertilizer on your plants, drink out of metal rather than plastic water bottles, and read the labels of your personal care products to avoid chemicals like phthalates . Finally, support genre-changing films like Toxic Bust screening at Breast Fest Film Festival , the world’s first film festival dedicated entirely to films about the Breast Cancer, and No Family History in its last stages of production.
By Sabrina McCormick, PhD and a Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania
Photo courtesy of Art’s Engine