There weren't many dry eyes at the 19th annual Luncheon of Hope Sept. 29 after keynote speaker Gerry Rogers invited all breast cancer survivors in attendance to come to the front of the room.
They were given a standing ovation at the sold-out Northern Cancer Foundation fundraising event.
“We are the face of breast cancer,” Rogers said.
“We are all shapes and sizes, all ages. We are the young and not-so-young. We are single-breasted, double-breasted, dimple-breasted and non-breasted.
“We are rich and not-so-rich, healthy or sick, married, single, mothers and fathers. We're straight, gay, crooked and more.
“And my challenge and the challenge of all of us who have had cancer is to transform that experience and to push back, to be defiant.”
Given she's spent her career as a documentary filmmaker, Rogers, a resident of St. John's, Newfoundland who now sits in the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly, did what came naturally when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, at the age of 42.
With help from her now-wife Peg, she documented her cancer treatment.
The result is the film My Left Breast, which won a Gemini Award in 2001 and even caught the attention of Rosie O'Donnell, who featured it on her now-defunct talk show.
After her diagnosis, Rogers said she was looking for films about breast cancer, but could only find technical medical films or those that were overly “rah, rah, whee, I'm going to beat this cancer.”
That and the thought she might die and this could be her last film inspired her to start documenting everything.
“But it's not really about breast cancer,” Rogers said. “It's about love, it's about community, about hope. It's the type of film where you laugh through your tears.”
Rogers' breast cancer was “not a good kind to have,” she said — invasive ductal carcinoma that had spread to her lymph nodes.
Her treatments included chemotherapy, radiation, mastectomy, and eventually a double mastectomy and hysterectomy as well.
Rogers had some preventative surgeries after several female close family memebers were also all diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We've all had double mastectomies,” she said. “There's not a tit among us. We call ourselves The Young and the Breastless.”
Making sure funds for breast cancer prevention, treatment and cures is a priority is key, Rogers said.
“We must do that kind of activism — we must push,” she said.
Northern Cancer Foundation executive director Tannys Laughren said she appreciated the fresh perspective on breast cancer Rogers gave.
“Every year the speakers bring something that the others in the past haven't,” she said. “She's a cancer survivor, which many of our speakers are, but she's also a documentary filmmaker. I think that eye, that ability to tell a story and to capture the essence, it will be very different from in the past.”
This year, the Luncheon of Hope raised $65,000, bringing the total raised over 19 years to $845,000.
The funds are going to cancer research equipment used at the Health Sciences North Research Institute.
“It's spectacular when you think that a luncheon of people coming together once a year has managed to raise (nearly) $1 million,” Laughren said.