Thursday, September 25, 2014

Guest Blog: A Bit of Love Tucked in Your Lapel

The following guest blog has been adapted from a personal reflection written by Sarah Lushia, the producer of my new documentary, '-1287'.  Sarah's full reflection can be found HERE.

It was a bright spring day filled with the deep warmth and frantic birdsong that finally breaks through the frigid hold of winter for good. I was sitting, in a scratchy paper gown on the cool, sticky vinyl of the exam table, waiting impatiently for the doctor to come in. Though spring had warmed the world outside, the old wooden and brick structure of the house-turned-doctor’s office held the damp cold of winter, raising goose bumps on my skin. This cold and the fact that I was only 19, still new to my post-pubescent body, and to the uncomfortable intimacy of the “yearly exam” I was there for, made me long to pull on my jeans and wool sweater and flee toward the birdsong outside.

Within the hour, I found myself standing amid that birdsong, sun shining down on the hospital test orders I held in my hand, giving them a strange warmth. My doctor had found a small, hard lump under my right breast and was sending me off to face the possibility of cancer, armed only orders scrawled in his illegible hand for protection or understanding. I’d never felt so alone.

While, thankfully, that lump turned out to be a harmless cyst I tasted, for a few brief days, the intense, nauseating flavor of my mortality. And in response, I did what any geeky English major in this situation might have done--I raided the library looking for books that might give language to what I was feeling, might turn my emotions into soothing poetry. It was then that I stumbled upon Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals. I sat on the floor next to the stacks and devoured the book without ever looking up.

While I was spared a breast cancer diagnosis of my own, I’ve returned to Lorde’s words and courage many times in my life. So it was no surprise to me that when I viewed the earliest version of the film, before Ian had even asked me to come aboard as producer, that I could hear Lorde’s words in my mind as I listened to Kazuko tell her own story. At one point Lorde says, “I realize that if I wait until I am no longer afraid to act, write, speak, be, I’ll be sending messages on a Ouija board, cryptic complaints from the other side. When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid” (13).

In the first scene of the film, when Ian asks Kazuko “What are you scared of?” I immediately found myself struck by Kazuko’s willingness to express her fear, bluntly saying “of course I’m scared to die,” and then by her willingness to speak through this fear in order to grapple with her death and share her story. Much like Lorde, Kazuko realized that she couldn’t wait to speak until her fear had subsided, or it would be too late. One of the things I find most compelling about Kazuko’s story is that it is in the space of sharing her story with Ian, and by extension, with all of us, she finds her own inner power in the face of death, and is able to focus less on her fear and more on her life. 

This image of Kazuko always reminds me of what Lorde said about hiding her body: “I refuse to hide my body simply because it might make a woman-phobic world more comfortable” (62).
From the very beginning of my journey as producer of this film, I was committed to keeping the focus on Kazuko’s strength and the ways in which the courageous sharing of her own story might help other women facing similar situations. Like Kazuko, many women facing such situations feel alone. Consequently, their choices of treatment options and end-of-life care can become framed by their sense of isolation. I saw immediately in Kazuko’s story the potential to give to other women access to the sense of hope and of community that Lorde’s text offered me so many years ago.

It was for this reason that it felt vital to me that we use this film as an opportunity to raise awareness about breast cancer and the need for strong support systems for the women facing this disease. Given that I was already deeply invested in using the film in this way, it seemed to me a sign when I found out that the world premier screening would occur on October 1st--the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This “coincidence” felt to me like both a gift and a blessing from Kazuko to use this film to help other women facing breast cancer.

One of the first things that I worked on was creating a list of resources about education/ awareness/ and support groups available to breast cancer patients and their families and caretakers. This list of resources can be found on the “Beyond” tab of the film website (HERE). It is my hope that these resources can serve to provide support and community, especially for those women who are facing breast cancer feeling alone.

I also wanted to do something during Breast Cancer Awareness Month specifically to honor Kazuko. On October 12th I will participate in the local Race for the Cure walk. All funds I raise will be donated to breast cancer research in Kazuko’s memory. You can read the tribute I wrote to Kazuko and/or make a secure donation in Kazuko’s memory to support my walk HERE.

While I am grateful for the timing of the October 1st world premier, I will be unable to attend the premier in person.  I thought a perfect way to be “present,” and also help raise breast cancer awareness at the premier, would be to make handmade breast cancer awareness ribbons that could be given out at the screenings. I made hundreds of them, folding a tiny bit of my spirit and love into each.

A single lapel pin, made with love
An "army" of lapel pins, marching against breast cancer
**Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals: Special Edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2006.

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