In 1994, Salt Lake City filmmaker Twinkle Chisholm followed the stories of five Utah women living with breast cancer. This month, she presents a follow-up to that program titled, Remembering the Faces of Breast Cancer, which looks at how things have changed in the last 17 years.
Two of the women she profiled lost their battle with breast cancer. The other three are cancer free.
Eileen Gray was only 23 when she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. She went through two rounds of chemo before her tumors was small enough to be surgically removed. She died in 1998 just before her 28th birthday. Frieda McCoy died in March 1995, a few months after the documentary aired.
Betty Pitman is now retired, enjoys a good game of golf and is very active in her church. Bonnie Stellmacher, who retired from the military, is moving to the dream home she and her husband built in Nevada. Michelle Thomas, whose experience turned her into an activist, is cancer free, but struggles with an autoimmune muscle disease called polymyositis.
Chisholm interviews each of the survivors a well as the husband of Frieda. Chisholm recalls on camera how she and her best friend, Tanya Mahood, befriended the young Eileen, whose dying wish was to see The Rosie O'Donnell Show. Chisholm arranged not only tickets to the show, but a meeting with Rosie afterwards.
"Working on the follow-up brought back a lot of memories, especially of Eileen – some really great ones and some really sad ones," says Chisholm. "Luckily, we've seen improvements in treatments and some aren't as harsh over the past 17 years."
Those advances will be discussed in a half-hour follow-up panel, half of which will be devoted to local medical experts. The other half will feature local activists discussing available resources. Utah has one of the lowest rates – ranking 47th in the bottom five in the country – of women getting mammograms, which is one of the best methods of early detection. Utah has one of the lowest rates – ranking in the bottom five -- of women getting mammograms, which is one of the best methods of early detection.
KUED will offer free resource packets in either both Spanish or English during the follow-up program.
Remembering the Faces of Breast Cancer and the follow-up program are funded by a grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure. As part of the grant, the half-hour documentary will be subtitled in Spanish for broadcast on KUED V-me, Channel 7.3 or Comcast 108. In addition, PSA's encouraging mammograms will air on both KUED and in Spanish on KUED V-me.