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One in Eight: Breast Cancer Roulette

When long-time Middle East peace activist Janice Fine was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at age 32, she started asking questions. For one, why has the incidence of breast cancer grown by approximately one percent a year since the 1940s? Is it simply that we have better detectors, or is something in the environment causing this groundswell?

Cynthia A. McKeown’s riveting 2004 documentary, “One in Eight: Janice’s Journey,” doesn’t answer these questions, but the fact that it asks them, moving us from pink ribbons to in-depth probing, is important. So, too, is the deeply personal look we get into one woman’s sojourn from perfect health to full-time patient.

“Cancer hijacks your whole life,” Fine says. “It takes up all your time.”

“Women in their 30s are not expecting a diagnosis like this,” says surgeon Susan Troyan.

Fine’s ordeal began in 1992 when she found a lump in her breast while showering. She immediately went to her general practitioner and was sent to a surgeon who assured her that the lump was a cyst.

A mammogram, taken a few months later, came back clean. A year later, when the “cyst” remained palpable. Fine was sent to a radiologist, who told her that she had a cancerous tumor that needed to be excised Since then, Fine has learned that half the breast cancers found in women under 50 are undetected by mammograms. Why, the film queries, are women in their 30s and 40s not told this?

Fine’s diagnosis led her into a whirlwind of research, fact-finding and decision-making—as well as surgery and chemotherapy. Throughout, her friends and family mobilized, raising $25,000 and providing a constant stream of food, camaraderie and emotional sustenance. Early in the film she quips, “If love is a cancer fighting agent, I’m gonna be fine.” Later, she admits to “the realization that you might not live through this.”

McKeown captures Fine’s physical and emotional state in month-by-month vignettes. When Fine begins chemo, for example, she has to decide what she will do when she loses her hair. “Early on,” she says, “I had a wig made. I thought I’d cover my head 24 hours a day. I could not imagine walking around bald. The fitting took five visits, but I have not put the wig on once since I lost my hair. It denies the reality of my life, that I have cancer and am undergoing a profound change.”

Fine got her Ph.D. in 2003 and is now a married mother of two working as a college professor. Despite her successes, she says “I have to live with the possibility of recurrence. My life will never be the same.”