The emotional and physical battle that one experiences after being diagnosed with cancer is unimaginable to those who have never personally experienced it. Bernadette Wegenstein, a filmmaker and professor of media studies at John Hopkins University, explores this difficult journey in her documentary The Good Breast.
When a body part is infected with an illness, there is an overwhelming desire to get rid of it, but what is the aftermath of mastectomy for some breast cancer patients? Wegenstein’s background of studying the body historically and culturally allowed her to approach the subject of breast removal.
What is it like to remove a part of the body that symbolizes so much for women in our society? How does a woman move forward and accept a body that no longer fits into society’s notion of what is “beautiful” or “normal?” She realized how important a surgeon’s role is in breast cancer, since removal and reconstruction are crucial paths that some patients take. All of this inspired her to create the documentary.
The Good Breast follows four women undergoing different breast cancer treatments and the surgeons who work with them. Cameras follow the women everywhere throughout their journey, even into the operating room for procedures including mastectomies, the removal of a whole breast, and a latissimus dorsi flap procedure, which involves removing a piece of muscle from the upper back and using it to reconstruct the breast.
The graphic nature of The Good Breast prevents it from being shown more commercially. Although Wegenstein wants this film to reach a lot of people, she did not want to give up that aspect of the film.
To understand the entire process of treating a tumor, nothing can be left out. The Good Breast lets audiences experience parts of treatment that most families of cancer patients never even get to see. It’s hard to watch at times, but Wegenstein says, “I really feel that there’s nothing more healing and powerful than the truth.”
There is a lot of emotion located in a woman’s breasts, and the healing process is something that Wegenstein is particularly interested in. A woman’s breasts can contain hopes of perhaps starting a family or feeling attractive, and when cancer strikes, fears of not being healthy enough to achieve these desires.
“I wanted to show how deeply women were affected by breast cancer beyond the surgery,” says Wegenstein, because the battle with this disease seems to never end. With treatment, there is always the chance of the cancer coming back, and with removal begins the process of acceptance and growth.
Bernadette Wegenstein was highly involved in the work, and developed real relationships with the patients and surgeons she was working with. You can constantly hear her voice in the background asking questions and being supportive of the women throughout their individual battles. For female documentary directors, there isn’t really a history of female participation in their own works. With The Good Breast, Wegenstein not only exposes the truth about breast cancer that most people will never know or see, but she also breaks barriers for female filmmakers by being present throughout the action of the film.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter