Friday, February 11, 2011

University faculty in Minnesota create documentary for deaf women facing breast cancer

From St. Catherine's University. Pictured left to right: “Signing On” Co-Producers Nancy Meyers and Anita Buel and Director Barbara Allen.

Signing On, the nation’s first documentary about the journey of Deaf women in treatment for breast cancer, will have advance screenings Saturday, Feb 12.

Screenings will be at 3 and 7 p.m. in Jeanne d’Arc Auditorium, Whitby Hall on the University's St. Paul campus, 2004 Randolph, St. Paul. Admission is free.

The story centers on Anita Buel, a 27-year cancer survivor and founder of the "Pink Deafies," the nation’s only breast cancer support group for Deaf women and an adjunct faculty member in the St. Kate's American Sign Language department. The film follows Buel and other members of the "Pink Deafies" over three years as they struggle to find their way in the hearing-dominated world of the American health-care system.

The film follows the women through diagnosis, into consultation, treatment and recovery with their hearing nurses and physicians. It’s a world where being “heard” is a matter of life and death. It’s a personal journey with confusion, frustration, tears, hopefulness and camaraderie. We meet Deaf husbands, family members and friends.

It is nearly impossible to imagine the journey of a Deaf woman in the hearing world of the American health-care system. To be Deaf and to communicate with American Sign Language (ASL) means you live in another culture. It is incorrect to assume that the Deaf understand English words about cancer just because a word appears to be translated into ASL by an interpreter in a doctor’s office. There is a point in the film where one of the Deaf women signs, “What’s a mammogram?”

The film provides education and advocacy for the Deaf with the health-care community. For the hearing world of nurses, physicians, friends and those interested in the broader challenges of today’s health care, this is a look inside a culture through the personal stories of women. The film communicates with ASL, sub-titles and narration.

Signing On is the first film for director Barbara Allen and Screen Porch Films. Allen is a professor of political science and director of Women and Gender Studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. She teaches classes in Cinema and Media Studies, political advertising and news coverage of election campaigns. Executive Producer Nancy Meyers is a consultant to the Deaf Community in health education and leadership development. She secured funding to start the nation’s first Deaf Hospice Education & Volunteer Project.

Meyers asked Allen in to conduct research as part of the hospice project. From this work, Allen was introduced to Buel, co-producer of the film. ASL-trained Meyers and Buel have been a bi-lingual/bi-cultural duo for seven years on the programs of the Deaf Community Health Worker Project. They share a passion with Allen to “right wrongs.”

The Pink Deafies in Minnesota is the nation’s only breast cancer support group for Deaf women. United under the banner of a quilt, the women meet monthly to offer support to one another, plan educational conferences and discuss how to reach out to more women who might benefit from the group’s work. Because they are members of a close-knit community, their commitment spans years. If a member dies, the quilt is displayed at the funeral (with the family’s permission). If a member is diagnosed a second time, they find special ways to offer support.

Anita Buel, a founding member of the "Pink Deafies" and a survivor of breast and ovarian cancer, is now the nation’s only Deaf Community Health Worker. She functions as a patient navigator for survivors of cancer and their families.

When a new member joins the "Pink Deafies," she is asked to sign her name to a quilt square. The signing of a person’s name is followed by food and socializing. It marks the beginning of that person’s journey to health and well-being. The film’s title, Signing On, comes from this very simple but important act of signing one’s name. The dictionary defines the phrase as: 1. to contract, to sign one’s name 2. to join 3. to go on, to endure, to remain.

This film has been supported in part by the Minnesota Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Foundation.