An award-winning documentary filmmaker, educator, and PBS consultant who was twice diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2008 and May 2011. Her treatments include: 2 lumpectomies, 38 weeks radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and a bilateral mastectomy in January 2012 with reconstruction.
She has served on the film faculties at Towson University in Baltimore, Montana State University, and San Francisco State University.
Her two highly acclaimed Health Issue documentaries NO REWIND: teenagers and HIV/AIDS and 3 girls i know… young women and sexuality, are currently distributed nationally and internationally to over 6,000 high schools, universities (Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Columbia among many others,) public libraries, hospitals, medical schools, community health clinics and public health departments. They have been screened at dozens of highly acclaimed film festivals; and broadcast by PBS, Discovery Channel and Knowledge Network.
“I am sorry, but you have breast cancer.”
In the United States, one-in-eight women will hear these shattering words in her lifetime.
As the daughter of a 12-year stage 4 metastatic breast cancer survivor and a filmmaker who has worked in the field of health educational documentaries for over 18 years, I was not exactly uninformed of the statistics and possibilities that I might be affected and yet…when my turn came, both times, I felt slammed, disoriented, disbelieving and determined that I had to snap out it quickly because there was a lot to be done in a very short amount of time if I wanted to save my life…
The nomenclature was bewildering to say the least. I immersed myself in a parallel universe that featured thousands of women from all walks of life talking about: lumpectomy, mastectomy, reconstruction, radiation, chemotherapy, BRCA, Oncotype DX and all the permutations therein.
How could this be happening to ME? The girl who became a vegetarian at 11, who aced the president’s PE tests in school, danced, climbed, biked and skied.
A "motion machine," the adult woman with a low pulse and blood pressure, and all that other stuff you get tested for in yearly physicals. I can even hear one of my doctors with admiration in her voice saying “that’s your reward for living a clean life!”
Breast cancer is an equal opportunity disease and affects women from all walks of life. Age, health, ethnicity, socio-economic, geographic nor marital status make any difference when you are summoned to take your place in “THE DREADED SISTERHOOD.”
Besides figuring out the technical aspects our particular disease and treatment options, most of us go online to find comfort in meeting other women to hear their stories. The power of story telling is informative and healing. Stories from women who have passed this way before are invaluable for navigating the treatments and keeping hope alive. Knowledge is power, the successful prevention and treatment of breast cancer depends on this.
I adjusted to my new realities and survived. And I decided to make a film that I wish I could have seen when my world broke apart.
Diagnosed Age: 59
A Tribal member of the Gros Ventre Nation who lives on the Fort Belknap Reservation in
Montana. She was diagnosed with stage one invasive ductile breast cancer at the age of
59. Her treatments included a lumpectomy and radiation. She drove her truck 125 miles
one-way to get treatment at the closest hospital. Her radiation treatment was every day
for 5 weeks.
Ms. Bear, the oldest of 12 children, survived a poverty stricken childhood entwined with
alcohol abuse, Indian boarding school, two marriages and a stillborn daughter. She later
received her AA degree from Montana State University in Bozeman.
Currently, she serves as a tribal councilwoman and health advocate and regularly
participates in cancer support groups, survivor walks and dispersing prevention
information to the women and men of the reservation. She is an avid basketball fan and
goes to the high school games on the reservation and during playoffs.
Diagnosed Ages: 34, 48
A flight attendant and businesswoman who lives with her husband
and two young children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was initially diagnosed with
triple negative breast cancer in February of 2000, two months after getting engaged. Her
soon- to- be husband stood by her side as she had her eggs frozen in anticipation of the
chemotherapy she would receive.
Two years later, she conceived “naturally “ a son and later a daughter.
Her cancer returned in the same breast in 2012. She had a mastectomy and is undergoing DIEP reconstruction, where tissue from her abdomen is used to make breast mounds.Debra is an advocate in her own community and has served on the board of Living Beyond Breast Cancer, a National Breast Cancer Survivorship organization based in Philadelphia.