aGLIFF 2011 (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival)
By Don Simpson | September 18, 2011
The reason Nevie Owens’ Cancerpants — the story of a 36-year-old Austinite, Rochelle “Ro” Poulson, as she battles stage III breast cancer — works so well is the empowering attitude of its lead subject. Whenever Owens’ camera sits with Ro for interviews, Ro speaks candidly and muses existentially about everything from the her state of health to diet, exercise and body issues. Ro accepts her cancer as if it is a tool to guide her on a spiritual journey, using it to expand upon her mindfulness and self-awareness. There is no doubt that Ro is a remarkable person; her personal strength and her approach to healing is clearly what leads to her eventual recovery.
Told partially via a Flip camera held by her partner Julie, these cinéma vérité segments of Cancerpants function as an intimate video diary that simultaneously tracks Ro’s health and her relationship with Julie. We observe as Ro undergoes chemo, a failed lumpectomy, a double mastectomy, and radiation; but we also watch as Julie juggles the duties as caregiver and lover. Speaking of which, Cancerpants really emphasizes the importance of a strong support system during cancer treatment and recovery — in Ro’s case that is Julie, her family, an expansive circle of friends, and the Austin community.
Prior to her diagnosis, Ro ate what most would consider an extremely healthy (vegan) diet and was an avid exerciser. Being that a 36-year-old woman in such good physical condition could be diagnosed with stage III breast cancer is shocking in itself. But Ro’s healthy lifestyle prior to her diagnosis seems to provide motivation for her throughout recovery; it also offers a unique insight and perspective for Ro to understand what her body wants and needs. Though she begins craving “unhealthier” foods, she does so in moderation and with a mindset that she must fulfill her body’s cravings because that is what it needs to heal.
Being of a similar mindset (in terms of healing and diet) to Ro, I cannot imagine allowing a hospital to treat my body with chemo and radiation. Most people, it seems, are willing to immediately and unflinchingly accept mainstream medical treatments for everything that ails them; but people like Ro (and myself) would prefer to heal naturally whenever that is an option. That is why, from my perspective, Ro’s acceptance of chemo and radiation takes even more confidence and courage than the average person. Not only would it would take a lot of convincing for me to willingly permit chemo and radiation to penetrate my body, but I would feel like doing so was completely shattering my beliefs system. Left with no other viable options — assuming there is no validity in natural and “non-Western” remedies for cancer — Ro opts to accept chemo and radiation treatment but hopes to offset some of its harmfulness with “alternative” forms of healing such as massage, acupuncture and yoga.
Cancerpants provides viewers with very unique and intimate insights into the cancer experience that will hopefully provide motivation and strength for those affected by and fearful of breast cancer — and cancer in general. If only mainstream (conservative) audiences will open themselves to accept Ro’s lifestyle. That said — I think Ro’s warm and glowing personality will win even the most conservative viewers over. I mean…how could it not?