Life Interrupted is a documentary film directed and produced by the fearless filmmaker and cancer survivor Paula Mozen. It is an intimate and emotional film that shares the personal stories of 3 cancer survivors, each of whom is facing and dealing with breast cancer in a different way.
Paula was diagnosed in 2008, at age 49, with invasive lobular carcinoma, and she immediately wanted to use her personable skills of connecting with others into a way to share the experience with people.
She used her diagnosis to create a documentary film of talking with breast cancer survivors around the country. Paula thought that talking to other patients and survivors would help her figure out what she might be going through, what it would feel like, and most important, to have the sense that she was not going through it alone.
“Ms. Motion” in Action: An Equal-Opportunity Disease
Before her diagnosis, Paula had been a dance teacher and was known to her students as “Ms. Motion.” She has been an active person her entire life and a vegetarian since being an 11-year-old kid.
This diagnosis was a proof to Paula that cancer is an “equal-opportunity disease”; it is estimated that 1 in 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives.
When Paula’s mom was 66 years old, Paula received a phone call from her dad, informing her that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mother reassured her: “Paula, don’t worry, you’re not going to get it,” making her own diagnosis all-the-more shocking.
Along her journey, Paula met with Pat Bear from Fort Belknap, Montana, and Debi Wood, from Ambler, Pennsylvania, to hear about their experiences with breast cancer. Paula’s interviews with Pat and Debi are quite intimate and personal, which suggests that she truly earned their trust and made real connections with them.
Pat Bear, of the Gros Ventre Tribe
Pat Bear, a member of the Gros Ventre Tribe in Montana, diagnosed at age 59, describes the pain of going to get a biopsy, without realizing what was about to happen. She shares a fascinating perspective not too often heard. Pat says that after her biopsy, she received a phone call at 4 pm on the dot, punctuality that she refers to as the “White man time,” as opposed to “Indian time,” which is much more relaxed and free.
Pat explains that in her American Indian culture, sons don’t help their mothers with their concerns, only their daughters do, or the mothers deal with things on their own if they don’t have daughters.
Pat is a very strong, independent, and spiritual woman. She faced her cancer diagnosis by taking part in wellness walks in Montana, and she shares her lack of interest in wearing a wig, which is not something she would consider.
She goes for her yearly mammograms in the fall, and she discusses her ongoing fear, which becomes more pronounced around that time of year: “What am I going to do if my cancer comes back?...It’s a fear you live with every year.”
Debi Wood: “It’s Too Big to Be Cancer”
Debi Wood, diagnosed at age 34, then again at age 47, described the moment she discovered a lump on her breast in the shower, screaming for her mother to come and check out what she’d just found. The doctor initially dismissed it by saying, “It’s too big to be cancer.” It turned out it was a 5-cm tumor, and she was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma, stage III.
Debi explained that the prospect of chemotherapy treatment terrified her, because she had always wanted to be a mother, and she and her now-husband, Christopher Rippie, went over their “plan B” treatment plan, which involved fertility treatment for 30 days before starting the chemotherapy.
They researched the options of freezing her eggs through cryopreservation and decided to give that a shot. Debi said that she was “so relieved going through chemotherapy, knowing I had babies in the freezer.”
To Debi and Chris’s most-welcomed surprise, Debi had their son Tyler, their “miracle,” and then 6 years later, they had “the gift we never knew we wanted”—their daughter Kayla Rose. They never had to use the frozen eggs after all.
After their good news, the Wood/Rippie family was hit with a new setback: Debi’s cancer had returned.
Chris said that Debi’s second diagnosis instilled in him a powerful sense of purpose. Chris explained, “At that point I knew that I was to be with her, because when you hear those words for a second time, you kind of shut down, and I needed to be there to ask the questions that she didn’t remember to ask.”
“I was going to do anything and everything to stay alive for my children,” Debi said. Debi’s and Chris’s beautiful relationship and support for one another shines through this documentary.
Debi didn’t think that she would be so affected by losing her hair. “I think it does play a role in our sexuality, in our feminism, something, and I was bald, you know, you can’t get balder than bald,” Debi said.
In the film, Paula explains that “everybody who goes through chemo wants to know what’s going to happen with their hair….Chemo affects all the cells in your body, not just the cancer cells, and hair follicles are particularly sensitive to chemo, so that’s what makes it fall out.”
The Dreaded Phone Call
Paula received the dreaded news of recurrence 3 years after her initial diagnosis. “Three years later, I got the phone call after I’d done an MRI: my cancer had come back. I couldn’t believe it. I’d done everything they told me to do. I felt my body was deceiving me, I never felt sick.”
Paula’s dad was her advocate, and there are touching images in the film of the 2 of them working together through her journey.
“I’m Not My Breasts”
Later in the film, we follow Paula through her mastectomy, post-mastectomy follow-up appointments, and the breast reconstruction process.
Before her mastectomy, Paula says, with her steadfast strength, “I’m not my breasts, I’m not cancer chick, I’m Paula Mozen, and Paula will emerge from this surgery intact, or changed, but I won’t die.”
Discussing her breast reconstruction process, Paula said that she felt as if she was going to a “beauty camp”; however, there was nothing beautiful or fun about the process that included many infections, resulting in many surgeries to remove the implants, and finally leaving her with one implant in, and one badly damaged infected breast that could not hold an implant.
Paula was not pleased with the way her breasts looked after the reconstruction surgery, and she had the feeling that “breast cancer won, I had not won, breast cancer won.”
But she didn’t give up and sought out the consultation of Roger K. Khouri, MD, of the Breast Cancer Center in Miami, Florida. Dr. Khouri developed a breakthrough breast reconstruction procedure called BRAVA. Paula had to wear a device (which Dr. Khouri designed) every day, for 3 weeks. She describes wearing the cumbersome device on her chest as a sort of “boob jail.”
Viewing Breast Reconstruction
This intimate and detailed look into the breast reconstruction procedure is a rare gift to viewers who are worried or curious about the process, and Paula is to be commended for her bravery in showing and sharing her journey with everyone to experience through this documentary film. She is truly a warrior, a survivor who understands the power of empathy through art and shared experiences.
This touching documentary weaves a layered tale of compassion, and the care that all family members show to each other is beautiful to witness. This award-winning documentary is currently screening at live festivals as well as online festivals to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Patient Experience
This true-to-life film shines a light on the many facets of the breast cancer journey. It offers a fantastic balance of medical, personal, emotional, and psychological insights that are sure to help anyone looking for different types of support in dealing with this “equal-opportunity disease”.
Amy Gundelach, RN, MSN, AG-CNS-BC, OCN, Gynecology Oncology Nurse Navigator, University of New Mexico Cancer Center, commented, “‘Life Interrupted’ is a phenomenal film that is true to the patient experience. The story is raw, gutsy and extremely powerful!”
Educational, institutional, and personal DVDs and streaming links are available online, at www.LifeInterruptedFilm.com.