About a week after my final chemo, I was contacted by a filmmaker named Rachel Pikelny. She was looking for someone to follow as a documentary film subject, someone who was finishing active treatment for breast cancer and moving on to what so many refer to as, ‘life back to normal’.
The rest is history. Rachel and her all-female crew followed me for about six months as I re-acclimated to the life of a person who is not having surgeries or chemo every week. The crew was there as I celebrated my one year cancerversary, got my first haircut and ultimately, as I got my mastectomy tattoo.
For many months afterwards, the film was in post-production and not an active part of my life.
Cut to a few months ago- The film was finished and ready to be screened. GRACE was born.
It started slow, screening once a month to a smaller group of either medical providers or survivors or survivor-adjacents. I started to glean the impact the film could have on people. You’d hear sighs in the beginning, giggles by the middle and sniffles towards the end. The film was moving people. And the film was starting to affect me in surprising ways.
In the past month or so, press and screenings for the film have really ratcheted up. People have seen the trailer that was recently released (see it below!!) or maybe they have been to a screening or now, perhaps, they have seen it in full online, as Salon is featuring the film on its premium site for a few weeks.
Suddenly, I am not just getting feedback from the 40 people in the screening room, but from old friends, long lost acquaintances and strangers from around the country.
I had no problem being filmed with my family, my kids, heck, even my mostly nude body. I knew the story we were telling was noble, I knew it would help people, I knew it was all worth it.
But now, for the first time in this whole process, I am starting to feel transparent. Now, this does not mean anything negative necessarily, it’s just a new feeling that I haven’t been able to get used to yet.
My story has left my body and mind. It lives outside of me in a place where I can no longer reclaim it. It has its own life now.
Think about that for a moment…
Something that was extremely powerful and emotional in your life has now been peeled off of you and lives in perpetuity where anyone in the world can see it at any time.
I am asleep, someone in Germany is watching my naked torso be tattooed. I am driving my kids around in my minivan and someone in Chattanooga is watching me talk to my young kids about life with cancer. I am binge watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and eating an economy sized bag of Mixed Berry Skittles and someone I went to high school with, but haven’t seen in 20 years, is watching me bald and crying.
It’s a bit unnerving and even a bit scary. Here I am being me, burning dinner and ignoring my kids while I listen to a podcast about the Real Housewives and potentially hundreds of people are watching my cancer struggle on their laptops or iPhones.
I can only equate it to what it must feel like to have the saddest version of yourself cloned and sent off into the ether to whine and kvetch as it pleases.
Another issue I have encountered is the barrage of compliments that come my way after people are made aware of, or have seen the film.
Here is the thing- Rachel and her team of female film warriors made this film. They used their skill and talent to create something real. David Allen, the tattoo artist featured in the film, has an extremely well honed talent. One that people wait years for and pay big bucks for. These people are real artisans, creators and producers of work that we can see.
Often there is a medical doctor on the panels with us after screenings. I don’t need to tell you about what they have achieved to be worthy of speaking on a panel about breast cancer.
And then there is me. What did I do to make the dais? Um…. I had cancer and allowed people to film me doing what I would have been doing regardless? So basically I did nothing but live my life.
I feel like a fraud sitting next to these artisans of their craft. They did something deliberate. They earned their spot to speak on an ‘esteemed panel.’ I just kept breathing and walking around and yet, there I am sitting next to them like I have something to show for it.
Yes, I know that it was brave-ish to allow my life to be filmed, but for me, that wasn’t a big deal. Outside of that, I have a terrible time accepting the compliments that come to me when we finish a screening. People want to take pictures with me. I was even asked for an autograph at the last one by a medical student. A medical student who is going to go on to cure people’s diseases and there I am signing my name in his book because I had someone film me getting a haircut…?!
It feels totally bonkers. How can I accept a compliment for living the life I was already living? I didn’t do anything.
I know what is going to happen here. Many of you will read this and write to me that I did in fact do something and you’ll give your reasons, but I guess what I want you to take away from all this verbal diarrhea is that when it comes down to it, I AM YOU.
I am the mirror in which you will see a reflection of yourself or your mother or your daughter. Do you congratulate yourself every day and tell yourself that you are brave and amazing?
We all probably should.
Our Chicago Premiere is April 23. I will be there being awkward and wondering why people are praising me. You should TOTES come!!!! Link here for tickets.
And now… Please enjoy the official trailer for GRACE