Filmmaker Lexie Shabel has embarked on a project her brother dubs, in the unvarnished way only brothers can, “borderline narcissistic”: The Me Film, the story of Shabel’s breast cancer. Advised by her doctor to have a double mastectomy, Shabel instead turned to alternative medicine, made a film and founded the Breast Wishes Fund, an informational resource on alternative treatments. This week, on the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis, Shabel hosts a ceremonial head-shaving event and an integrative medicine forum.
The hardest thing about cancer for me probably initially was that mortality element: being 38 years old and being confronted with the idea that I might die sometime soon. It forced me to question the way I was living. One thing I’ve often said is that cancer made me grow up.
The film exists as my other films do: as a character-driven story. The Breast Wishes Fund was created as the audience engagement/community education element, because I don’t want to make the film a PSA. I am thinking about it as a film director: How is this not going to be such a depressing ride? How do I make this so that it’s something inspiring and funny and you’re totally sucked in?
[on editing the film]
It was like being in therapy for eight hours a day. I would just be bawling the whole time. And, now, there is a 15-minute work-in-progress that’s going to screen at the fundraiser.
I feel like I haven’t really changed that much—but then, when I look at [the early film footage], it’s like, wow. There’s footage of me saying, ‘I’m actually considering double mastectomies today.’ For a large part of the time, I was still looking at surgery, even though internally I knew it wasn’t what I felt.
There’s all these nice terms for things: chemotherapy—therapy! You know what it is? It’s blasting your body. You are nuking yourself. It is one of the most horrifying experiences. I died every time.
[on being diagnosed]
Find your head. If you have an hour, if you have a week—go someplace quiet. Do what you need
to do to center yourself and remember who you are, and make your decision from a place of empowerment and not fear. Because once you are in the hospital system—once you start seeing an oncologist, a surgeon, a radiologist—the fear is the main element. You are afraid you’re going to die.
Is it vanity? No. I could get a mastectomy; I’m really comfortable with my body. But I have given thanks frequently to still having both my breasts.
[on loved ones with cancer]
Do the research for them—but filter it; [don’t] just throw everything their way. Make sure the person is physically touched. It’s important for the person to be alone, but not too much. Cook for somebody. If you’re doing chemo, it’s really hard to eat, but if you know something is made with bhakti— with loving devotion—that makes it a lot different.
I used to have really big hair. I was always known for my hair; it was rock ’n’ roll. When I cut it off—I did a ceremony around cutting it off before the chemo—I remember feeling like I could jump 50 feet high, because I’d always had long hair, ever since I was a little girl. I realized that I had hidden behind my hair.