A Film by Bernadette Wegenstein (2016)
Through the intimate stories of several breast cancer patients and their surgeons, The Good Breast explores the cultural roots of the loss of the breast. Unprecedented OR footage presents medicine as a ritual and the mastectomy as a modern form of breast sacrifice.
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The film features real and intimately portrayed doctor and patient encounters which reveal the often opposing desires for individual breast cancer treatment. Each character undergoes a different medical and personal experience with the loss of her breast and its reconstruction.
The no nonsense breast surgeon Lauren Schnaper struggles with her patients’ emotional decision to rid themselves of their breasts immediately after a diagnosis with breast cancer. Debunking the cancer myth of early detection she warns her patients that “a mastectomy does not save your life,” and expresses her candid views of the “breast cancer awareness movement” which makes women fearful rather than educated about breast cancer.
For the gentle plastic surgeon and partner of Dr. Schnaper’s for many years, Dr. Sheri Slezak, the breast is a very subjective organ, and it’s as much a part of the treatment as the cancer itself. While she wants to prevent her patients from going for the “gold” instead of the “silver medal,” she cannot stop Doris's desire for a Full C.
Breast Cancer Treatment
The Good Breast explores medicine as ritual, presenting the rise of the mastectomy in the U.S. as a modern form of breast sacrifice. Unlike all other surgical trends towards less invasive surgery (robotic, endoscopic etc.), prophylactic mastectomy rates have increased over the last decade. Mastectomies don’t guarantee survival benefits per se (except for genetic mutation carriers), as renowned breast cancer surgeon Dr. Lauren Schnaper states in The Good Breast. Among the main reasons for mastectomies are patient concern about recurrence, increased screenings (mammograms and MRIs), and the desire for symmetry and/or the right and often bigger breast size. An overall fear of breast cancer, misguidance, and pink ribbon culture are also fueling this alarming rate of unnecessary mastectomies in America. Their “necessity” lies outside of the realm of statistics and calculable medicine, and within the realm of personalized medical choices.
The Myth of
Agatha, who died in Catania, Sicily in 251 AD, is the patron saint of Catania and also venerated as the patron saint of breast diseases because she sacrificed her breast in her famous martyrdom by the hands of Roman governor Quinziano and his sodiers. The Good Breast surgeons Dr. Lauren Schnaper and Dr. Sheri Slezak travel to Catania for the Festival to witness this unique expression of devotion to the breast. The Agatha myth has been told and practiced by the people of Catania for thousands of years — the subject of Bernadette Wegenstein’s next documentary, Devoti Tutti.
The Good Breast
“The Good Breast takes viewers behind the scenes of America’s cultural obsession with breast cancer, one that is fueled by hype and the perpetual promise of cure. We meet real people, patients and physicians alike, as they confront tough decisions about how best to deal with a potentially life-threatening disease and its impact on their lives.”
Gayle Sulik, Author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health
Elizabeth Karr is a producer of the feature film adaptation of Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report) novel, Radio Free Albemuth, starring Alanis Morissette, Shea Whigham, Katheryn Winnick and Scott Wilson, directed by John Alan Simon. She has also produced a Disney Channel TV pilot, Virtually Casey and several short films and PSAs.
Austrian-born Bernadette Wegenstein is a Research Professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where she directs the Center for Advanced Media Studies at. She produced the documentary Made Over in America (Icarusfilms, 2007), exploring the culture of extreme makeover shows. She is currently in pre-production with a documentary on the history and culture of breast cancer.
Rebecca Messner's first film, Olmsted and America's Urban Parks, about the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, features the voices of Kevin Kline and Kerry Washington, and was broadcast nationally in 2011 via American Public Television—it is currently being distributed on PBS DVD. Prior to working on The Good Breast, Messner was commissioned by Johns Hopkins University, where she graduated with a degree in Writing Seminars in 2008, to direct a film about the Baltimore Scholars Program, which gives free tuition to graduates of Baltimore City Public Schools.