On October 1st of 2015, Mr. Alan M. Blassberg’s “Pink and Blue Movie; Colors of Hereditary Cancer” premiered at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles, CA.
There is a phrase that I have heard people use: “The Power of Social Media” – in my own life I’ve been a part of and seen the reality of that ‘power’ many times.
The combined efforts of a plethora of caring and deeply involved individuals working together in this compelling documentary is a great example of what that phrase means. Many of the people involved, including the executive director, Mrs. Amy Byer Shainman, a BRCA Previvor and Hereditary Cancer Advocate, first met Mr. Blassberg and learned of his project through social media channels.
During the movie I was riveted. I was emotionally moved by the stories that were showcased. I found myself genuinely caring about what was happening to the women and men that were brave enough to share their stories with the world.
After the movie, as the credits rolled, I looked over at my brother, who had accompanied me, and he looked at me, and we both strongly agreed that this was a powerful documentary. I fully believe that it has the kind of information, portrayed in such a way that it not only can, but will, save lives.
Being a part of the BRCA / hereditary cancer high risk community myself, I went into the movie figuring I wouldn’t learn much that I didn’t already know. I was wrong. I do know a lot about how the BRCA mutation affects women. I know what our percentages and risks are. I know of the limited options BRCA positive women have if we want to avoid getting some of the cancers we are at high risk for. Where I am lacking in knowledge is what it’s like to be a man in the high cancer risk world. And that is something that Pink and Blue Movie got me thinking and talking a lot about.
What captivated my interest the most in this movie wasn’t the ‘Pink’ but the ‘Blue‘. It’s problematic that in 2015 there is still so much misinformation about male breast cancer. There are still people, DOCTORS – who think that men can’t get breast cancer, or that men can’t pass on the BRCA mutation to their offspring. . That’s just a complete fallacy. As bad as it is that some are thinking it, some are spreading that misinformation to their patients. That, I knew already. It upsets me when I think of it, because that sort of misinformation leads to what could have been avoidable cancer diagnoses and even death. What I learned from watching Mr. Blassberg’s movie, was what it feels like for a man to deal with having the BRCA mutation in a mostly woman’s world.
Over the past seven years (give or take here and there for breaks) I’ve been involved in BRCA advocacy. Admittedly I’ve been MOSTLY involved in helping other women who have a high breast and/or ovarian cancer risk though I haven’t completely neglected the men. I’ve shared links, and pictures to raise awareness that men can and do get breast cancer, and if they happen to have the BRCA mutation then their risk for that is raised. I helped Dave Bushman get the BRCA Brotherhood started on Facebook (a relatively small group just for men). I’ve set people straight when they are wrong (about men and breast cancer), and I wrote a little bit about it in the book (noted below) I co-authored. So over these years while I thought I was advocating for all of those with BRCA mutations, after watching the Pink and Blue Movie I realized just how much was lacking in the way of REAL awareness and advocacy for men in the BRCA world. I feel a bit ashamed that I hadn’t tried to do more for the men in this topsy turvey world of hereditary cancer risk.
For women with this type of mutation, the implications are easier to understand, to see, to grasp, to deal with – to do something about. For men – not so much. So what does a man do when he’s handed a BRCA positive test result? Does he have a Risk Reducing Bilateral Mastectomy? Does he go with Increased Surveillance? Perhaps he’ll try some Chemo-prevention? These options are given to women, but I don’t know many men who are encouraged to go through with prophylactic surgeries in the way that women are pushed to do it. Ok, actually, I don’t know ANY men that have been advised to do any of those things, other than possibly being advised to have yearly colonoscopies. To be blunt, I don’t know the answer to why men with mutations aren’t being advised better, but it is something we really want to think about. It does deserve a discussion, and a big one at that.
I think that walking out of a movie theater after seeing a documentary, with thoughts racing through ones head, with a lot of answers, but also with questions, and ideas that stick with us, is absolutely a great sign of a documentary that did what it intended to do. So I have to say kudos on a job well done!
Awareness has been raised.
Now for the next step: Find some answers for affected men as well, and hey, while we’re at it, let’s start actively including some Blue along with all of that Pink, shall we? And we’ll continue working on BETTER solutions than what we’ve got for all of us.
Director: Alan M. Blassberg
Screenwriters: Sue Bailey and Alan M. Blassberg
Executive Producer: Amy Byer Shainman
Cinematographer: Scott Carrithers
Editor: Becca Berry
A quick recap of who “I” am: Teri Smieja, BRCA1 mutant, former blogger at Teri’s Blip in the Universe, co-founder of the BRCA Sisterhood on Facebook, co-author of Letters to Doctors (The BRCA Edition), creator/administer of the Letters to Doctors Facebook page, and more recently the co-moderator of BRCA Commons on Facebook and co-blogger on Brave Bosom.