Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Cut and the Cure: the movie!

The Cut and the Cure is now on YouTube! It's a fifteen-minute documentary about my research into breast cancer surgery by James Williams, a final-year student studying film production at Bournemouth University. James came to me a while back, wanting to make a film about breast cancer because it's close to his heart: his family has experienced it first-hand. I've become very fond of James. He's sensitive, intelligent, funny and good-hearted. It's pretty unusual for someone so young to tackle such a difficult subject, but James is not an average student. He lost his father, suddenly, within days of our filming. He knows what loss looks and feels like.

There are two things about the film I have been chewing over. I've been struggling with the placement of graphic surgical imagery so close to the front of the film. I worry that this imagery will have people switching off and missing a central message, which is that viewing surgery as art, as something strangely beautiful, helped me come to terms with going through it. I must accept, however, that this is James's film, not mine. I can use my writing to make surgery accessible; I can imagine the different responses and play with my words accordingly, coaxing people in. When I write, I'm in control. But this is James's film, and I have to relinquish control. I've been holding on to this film, not sure how to share it. Now, I think, I can let it go.

The other thing I want to share is this. A friend and fellow DCIS patient pointed out to me that the way the film is edited makes a case for reconstruction being the "only" way you can feel whole after mastectomy. I don't feel this way at all. I don't wish to strong-arm anybody into having reconstruction. It was right for me; for others, it isn't. Having the choice is what matters. I know that many of the women at the Mermaid Centre who had mastectomies ten, twenty years ago didn't feel the need for reconstruction — and still don't. They have found their own ways to live with their surgeries. I love the story my old friend in upstate New York told me when I first got diagnosed: "Years ago, my grandma made herself a prosthesis after her surgery. She used it as a pin cushion. She used to stick needles and pins in the front of her dress without thinking while she was sewing. It was kind of a shock when she answered the front door..."

So here it is: James's film, The Cut and the Cure. You may or may not find surgery beautiful, but here's to looking something difficult straight in the eye.


  1. What a thought provoking film. My sister had a mastectomy in 2005 but wasn't offered a reconstruction at the same time. She then had a reconstruction done in 2007 from her stomach rather than her back. She was in a lot of pain from that, although ultimately she was glad she had it done. Sadly, her cancer was starting to spread by that time, unknown to us. It would have been so much better to have had both mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time - physically and psychologically. We had great care from breast cancer nurses - especially when the cancer came back. They were always available to help and support in a very holistic way.
    Congratulations to you all on this film

  2. It is so nice to get your comments and to hear that you liked the film. Having a choice regarding whether to even have reconstruction as well as a choice re. the timing of surgery does make the patient feel better, I think. It might not have been possible for your sister to have immediate reconstruction though. It would have depended, I think, on the extent of the invasion and the treatment plan; I have met a lot of patients who have had no choice in the matter - some have had to wait a matter of years to be "fit" or "clear" for surgery. I'm so very sorry that your sister's cancer came back. My heart goes out to you.

  3. Kelly, I've noticed your YouTube posted film has changed since I first watched it. In particular a piece that interested me a great deal the first time I watched it, the passing of the tissue from the back through the skin in order to be inserted in the breast cavity in front, something that was difficult to comprehend until watching your film. Also noted, the section whereby the doctor cut up the orange with all his instruments scattered on your kitchen table and him showing you how to quickly open the packaging has been excluded. Why? -- D

    1. OOh, I'm glad you told me, I haven't had anything to do with any edits so I will get in touch with James, the student who made it. I haven't watched it for a while, so I'll have a look now...Kelly

    2. Diane, I think I know what you're referring to now. The YouTube film, The Cut and the Cure, hasn't changed. But the two pieces that interested you come from my own videos of the Operation Orange workshop at my house - and also James did not use these videos in his film, but there is a demonstration of me doing Operation Orange on the same table.