Shedding Light on the Emotional Aspects of Cancer Treatment

<em>Mondays at Racine</em> depicts the emotional side effects of cancer therapy
Mondays at Racine depicts the emotional side effects of cancer therapy

On Tuesday, January 28, 2014, members of the Einstein community gathered in Riklis Auditorium, for a special screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary Mondays at Racine, and a Q&A with the film's director, Cynthia Wade. The film chronicles the journey of two patrons of the Long Island salon Racine as they cope with the emotional side effects of their cancer therapy. The event was co-sponsored by the D. Samuel Gottesman Library, WellMed and HealthYU.

"Your hair is part of your identity…you feel like you are being erased," said Linda Hart, during a discussion of hair loss at Racine. The salon is run by two sisters— Cynthia Sansone and Rachel DelMolfetto—who, after bearing witness to their own mother's struggle with chemotherapy, decided to open their doors the third Monday of each month, free of charge to women undergoing breast cancer treatment. Along with fellow cancer patient Cambria Russell, Ms. Hart finds solace in the salon's safe and supportive environment.

Ms. Wade explained, "My job is to be able to tell as honest and true of a story as possible and that means sometimes going into an uncomfortable place with people." This included overcoming her own fear and discomfort when Ms. Russell offered to reveal her post-op scars.

Recalling that moment, she said, "If I am a woman making a film about this subject, and I am afraid to see her scars, I need to address that. This is the new normal for a lot of women and it isn't something we should be blinding our eyes from."

As the film begins, Ms. Russell is coming to terms with the need to shave off what remains of her already thinning hair. The trauma this loss causes her is clearly visible, as tears stream throughout the haircut while Ms. DelMolfetto holds her hand.

The grief Ms. Russell feels over losing a physical part of her self is nothing new for Ms. Hart, who has been living with cancer for 17 years and has lost both breasts, in addition to her hair. In the context of the supportive group environment offered by the salon, the two women are able to openly discuss their hopes and insecurities.

The film also explores the toll that cancer and its treatment can take on patients' families and intimate relationships. Throughout, Racine serves as a beacon, offering the women an opportunity to rediscover their beauty as well as an outlet for discussing their experiences. After a day of salon services Linda noted, "I feel like me again."

Following the screening, Ms. Wade—whose 2008 film Freeheld received the Academy Award for best documentary short—entertained questions pertaining to the film's subject and its impact. Of particular interest to medical students in attendance was the ethics involved in documenting patient treatment, including highly personal interactions with family members and physicians. Audience members also were interested to know how decisions are made when tackling difficult issues, such as Ms. Russell's decision to undergo a double mastectomy.

When asked how making the film has shaped her personally, Ms. Wade said, "Above all, it reinforced the notion that life is not guaranteed. It's so fleeting. It's so precious."


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