Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Intermission Was Brought to You by Breast Cancer

If you emailed or called me in the second half of March, you got an auto-reply that said I was "off the grid" and wouldn't be reading email or checking voicemail. A few of you contacted the folks to whom I directed you and expressed confusion and frustration over this: "I don't understand. What does she mean by 'off the grid'?" "She's gotta be checking email occasionally, right?" Others wished me a nice vacation and asked me where I was going. I knew my absence would be inconvenient for some, and I wanted to tell them the real reason for it, but I didn't think it was their business. Well, now that the worst of my ordeal is over and dishonesty is really not my style, I figured I'd come clean: I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (DCIS), had a double mastectomy, and took some time off to recover from it. Though I'm not operating at 100% yet and still have to take it easy for a few months, I am back on the grid, and thankfully, cancer-free. 

A whopping 1 in 8 women in the U.S. (over 12%) get invasive breast cancer--that's a greater proportion than women who direct movies (only 6%)! WTF?!! In spite of recent studies and stats spurring controversy over early detection, I personally feel really lucky to have caught my DCIS early, before it had a chance to become invasive. How did I catch it? Practically by happenstance. I was at a routine check-up when my doctor asked, "Do you want a mammogram? You don't have to have one since you're not 40 yet." I shrugged and said, "Sure, why not?" So, in December, on my very first mammogram, something suspicious turned up. 

It was exasperating and exhausting to deal with this over the holidays, not to mention in the midst of prepping to release COLD COMES THE NIGHT, hauling ass to finish LAND HO! for Sundance, running Gamechanger, and switching health insurance plans (thanks Obamacare!). I got a biopsy on January 9, the day before CCTN's release, and received the bad news on January 17, the day before Gamechanger's first investor gathering at Sundance, and two days before LAND HO!'s world premiere. I cried for about 30 seconds after I hung up with my doctor, then got out of bed to start my full day at Sundance. I got through the whole festival without telling anyone but my husband. Getting the news at Sundance was actually a great thing because I really had no time to wallow.

It's been very difficult having to juggle cancer with regular life. I know an indie producer's workload is perpetually ridiculous, but it's been excessive the past few months, especially with first-quarter tax crap thrown into the mix. I was jamming to tie up loose ends before surgery and to prepare my colleagues (bless them!) to pinch-hit, while trying to do as much research as possible on my condition. Though I was incredibly fortunate that I only had DCIS, the fact that it's early-stage means that there are many more treatment options than with later-stage cancers: 19 different possible treatment permutations, in my case. On top of that, I tested negative for BRCA gene mutations, which made it even tougher to decide what to do. The choices were overwhelming--I kept changing my mind, and I was constantly questioning whether I was making the right choice. Thankfully, there were many wonderful women who gave me comfort by generously sharing their cancer experiences with me; I am so grateful to them.

I guess there's no such thing as an opportune time for cancer, but boy, was this an inopportune time! I couldn't put off my surgery for too long, but my doctor did let me schedule it for after SXSW. I'd never been to the fest before, and was looking forward to speaking on some panels and seeing what all the hubbub was about. So I went for a few days, had a great time, and got my mastectomy on March 14. Though it hurt like hell (and still does), I've been resting and recovering well, thanks mostly to my dear husband Lucius, who's been doing everything for me since my docs forbade me from moving my arms for two weeks.

I guess I'm telling you all this because enough of you were puzzled about why I was "off the grid" to make me puzzled about why it's such a puzzling concept. In our modern daily grind, and especially in a relentless occupation like film producing, it's really easy to forget that we need time for ourselves, if not to heal from an illness, then to spend time with family, or to simply nurture our own well being. Being brutally forced to unplug taught me that I need to unplug more often, that it's OK--necessary, actually--to be "off the grid" sometimes. As they say, life is a marathon, not a sprint, and I, for one, need to work on my endurance and pacing. The healthier we are, the longer we'll live, and the more we'll accomplish. This should be painfully obvious, but sadly, it isn't. Let's snap out of it! Here's to your health and mine.

UPDATE, 4/8/14: I'm floored by the vast number of women in film who, after reading this post, have confided in me about their own cancer experiences or recent diagnoses. I feel for those who have suffered in silence, fearful of the stigma. (Un)fortunately, you are not alone! My thoughts today are especially with a filmmaker who will be having a double mastectomy tomorrow. Stay strong, keep a sense of humor, and see you very soon on the other side! By the way, recovery is an excellent guilt-free excuse to binge-watch Netflix! :)


  1. Really glad you are okay. Good luck with your recovery and the very best of health!

  2. I'm so sorry you've been through all this and so pleased you've had good care and good outcomes, Mynette. I don't know how to convey how much my heart is with you. Very best wishes to you for a speedy and comfortable recovery and a long, happy, healthy, cancer-free life.

  3. You're incredible, Mynette. Love to you. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you need anything.

  4. dearest mynette... your post left me in tears and very inspired to get offline asap and go to synagogue and breath in the rest of the evening if possible. I am a cancer survivor myself and have not slowed down since my diagnosis 24 years ago... and i have to. as for you.. i want to be your connection to the best post-opp lymphatic system prevention program/massage therapist in the city.. not enough folks in the med world focus on post op prevention of lymphedema.. and i can tell you... it's a gift to live in this city and have this service -- part of your obama care at work - at your service. I send you my love and my gratitude for finding the silver lining in all this, for choosing to take the gifts alongside the pain and fear and discomfort, to be generous with your epiphanies... much love sister ! xo J