Fighting breast cancer artistically

[attach]1007[/attach]One night at a Rethink Breast Cancer event changed Karyn Stowe’s life forever.

Upon her return from the June event for Rethink, which offers support services to young women affected by breast cancer, Stowe decided to perform a breast self-exam and found a lump.

It was cancer.

“I think to a certain extent, Rethink saved my life,” said Stowe, who had only attended the event to accompany a friend already battling breast cancer.

“Had I not gone, I would have never checked my breasts.”

The Bloor West resident is one of five women featured in a Rethink documentary entitled About Her.

It brings together the stories of Canadian women who underwent treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer, considered one of the most aggressive forms of the disease.

The short documentary premiered at the second annual Breast Fest Film Festival, which ran Nov. 20-22. It is believed to be the only film festival of its kind in the world.

In it, Stowe talks about her journey, including finding out the lump was malignant while on vacation.

“I was changing my kid’s diaper by the pool when my cell rang,” she said. “It was my doctor telling me I have breast cancer.”

After an MRI performed a week before her surgery, doctors learned that it was worse than they anticipated – she had two lumps that had almost doubled in size. Stowe underwent a mastectomy.

Two weeks after her surgery, her doctor informed her that it was HER2-positive breast cancer.

“There is no history of breast cancer in my family,” Stowe said, “because of that, I thought I was immune to it,” she said.

Phyllis Ellis, the film’s director, agrees. She said she was drawn to Stowe’s story because she has three small children.

“Dying was not an option for Karen,” she said. “She was very raw and indicative in how you manage your life during a crisis. I really wanted to capture that.”

She describes Stowe as the “gentle one” out of all the distinct personalities in the film.

“But her story is still so powerful,” she said. “She deals with everything in her life with such grace.”

Alison Gordon, vice-president of Rethink and director of Breast Fest, said the purpose of the film festival is to raise awareness about different breast cancer issues.

About Her focuses on debunking the stereotype that breast cancer is an older woman’s disease – all the women in the film are pre-menopausal.

“We are interested in women’s health and encouraging dialogue between young people to support the cause,” she said.