WomenStories Featured in Advance Magazine
Advance publications produces a family of magazines for medical professionals. The September issue for Imaging and Radiation Therapy Professionals contains an article about WomenStories. Entitled Emotional Help on Video for Breast Cancer Patients, it is listed on the front cover of the magazine as one of three feature articles. Shared here is the article as it appeared in its entirety.
Vol. 19 •Issue 19 • Page 16
Tales of Survival
The WomenStories video series aims to give newly diagnosed breast cancer patients the emotional support they need to get through treatment.
By Suzanne Chang
Women who learn they have breast cancer can count on a plethora of medical advice from their doctors, but they are often left to fend for themselves when it comes getting emotional help.
Mimi Dow wants to change that.
A two-time breast cancer survivor, Dow is executive director and co-founder of WomenStories, an organization based in Buffalo, N.Y., that produces a videotape series aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting breast cancer patients by documenting and sharing survivors' experiences.
"There is a lot of information for breast cancer patients out there, but there is not a great deal that addresses the emotional needs of the patients," Dow said in a recent interview with ADVANCE.
Since 2000, the organization has produced 10 videos, all featuring women from different backgrounds and experiences so that any patient who views a video will relate to one of the interviewees.
Dow has teamed up with breast cancer survivors from New York City-based LatinaShare, an organization that provides self-help for women with breast or ovarian cancer, and with the Houston-based Sister's Network, a national African-American breast cancer survivorship organization, to help produce the videos.
"The videos feature women of all ages and a third of the survivors are minorities of one kind or another," Dow said.
"I wanted to make the videos accessible to women all over the country."
One featured survivor, Teresa Jen Small, MD, is a radiologist who appears in the Chemotherapy, Radiation and Life after Breast Cancer videos. Dr. Small offers the perspective of a medical professional who has gone through breast cancer on both the emotional and treatment level.
By survivors, for survivors
WomenStories was conceived in 1998, when Lucie DiMaggio, MD, a breast cancer survivor who was just 29 when her disease was diagnosed, invited Dow and other fellow survivors to her home to discuss her idea for a video series to help provide breast cancer patients with emotional support and advice.
Dow said she believed in the idea from the start. A lifelong teacher, she said she had always shared with her students her strong belief that stories about others can teach people about themselves.
"This belief helped to form the bridge between my work as a teacher and now my work as a producer of this video series," said Dow, who runs the day-to-day operations of the organization while Dr. DiMaggio serves on WomenStories' national advisory board.
"The overall goal is to help women feel that they are not alone and that they can take charge of their illness," Dow said. "There is a section in our videos that features the survivors giving advice. The main message is that you must be in control of your own treatmentif you are not happy with how it is going, you need to listen to yourself."
When they first learn they have breast cancer, Dow said, women don't always know the next step to take.
"You often feel like a cork bobbing on waves," she said, noting that it is very important for older women, in particular, to know that it is OK to question their doctors.
"I think younger people already know that they can question authority. They know how to find alternatives if they need to," she said.
WomenStories also encourages patients to join support groups where they can meet other women who have survived the disease.
"On the emotional level, survivors are the authorities," Dow said. "Your mental state can affect the medical outcome of the disease, so it is important for these women to feel as though they are part of a group of women who have already gone through the treatment. The women are proof that you can go through all the ups and downs of treatment and still survive."
Dow knows this firsthand. As the WomenStories idea was developing, she was going through an unpleasant experience with her own care during a reaccurance.
"Everything seemed to go wrong regarding the surgery, and not one doctor would talk to me—they also don't like it when things go wrong. However, I was lucky to have a wonderful radiation oncologist who was realistic with me," she said.
In the midst of all the challenges, Dow's oncologist assured Dow that she was doing everything right throughout her treatment and recovery; however he told her it was possible that cancer could come back. It was his understanding and caring attitude toward Dow that motivated her to look into the power of psychosocial support; she ultimately joined the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, whose mission is to advance the science and practice of psychosocial care for cancer patients and ensuring that they have access to psychosocial services.
"I was intrigued by this idea and applied it to WomenStories," said Dow, who with the other women began to raise money and contact survivors about appearing in the videos.
Dow said she has had a great resource on handher son, Whitney, who is an award-winning documentary filmmaker.
"My son lives in New York City, but he came up to Buffalo to teach me how to make the videos. He helped to produce and edit the first video, Initial Discovery and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer. I went with him to all the shoots and interviewed the women while learning the ropes from him," she said.
So far, 13,000 copies of WomenStories videos have been distributed through support groups, libraries, medical resource rooms and medical professionals, as well as through wellness centers and on Internet list serves. The videos can also be viewed by clip or in their entirety on the organization's website, www.womenstories.org.
"Being available online helps us reach more patients, families and medical care providers and those who have high-speed Internet access," said Karin Krasevac-Lenz, WomenStories' managing director.
"We have distributed many videos, but we won't be satisfied until we can reach [all] the 215,000 women that are diagnosed [each] year," Dow added.
Suzanne Chang is assistant editor at ADVANCE.