beyond the silence

By Traci Mark

beyond the silence photo

Roda and Asha Siad’s thought provoking documentary Beyond The Silence (2013) begins with a series of statistics from the United Nations Health Organization indicating that not only almost 500,000 women worldwide die from breast cancer every year; more revealingly, breast cancer screening is especially low among immigrant and minority women compared to their white or native born counterparts.

I immediately knew it would be difficult to write an objective review of this doc. I couldn’t help but think of all the important women in my life, and how it never occurred to me that any of them could possibly contract this deadly illness. I was born in Canada, same with my sisters. But our parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents all hail from the Caribbean. Has our heritage made us blindly assume that breast cancer would not be a disease we could get? Was it because most of the women I see in advertisements for breast cancer did not look a thing like me? Somehow innately I thought the pigment of my skin would exclude me.

Beyond the Silence interviews four women, one father, medical professionals, and careworkers in Alberta, who have dealt with breast cancer personally or known someone who has.  Most of the women interviewed hail from Asia, the Middle East or Africa. With each women having moved away from their home countries, their children are the ones that now come first.  “My life finished a long time ago. I am alive for my children,” Marthaya Abdullah says when talking about her fear of breast cancer. Taking care of their children and attending to their needs remains a priority.  One segment that particularly resonates with me is when Zainab Saleh Taleh, a Somali woman that moved to Canada in the late 80s explains that the word “breast” alone is a difficult thing for people in her community to say.  Let alone saying the words together: breast cancer.

As a community we are so used to seeing a certain demographic or race of women being diagnosed with this deadly illness.  When do we ever see a person of African, Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern or any minority descent advertised when it comes to breast cancer? Almost never. This is a fact that I did not realize until it was blatantly pointed out in the film.  But does that mean that we don’t need to protect ourselves? No one but Caucasian women get breast cancer? Of course not.  Organizations such as the Breast Cancer Health Initiative for Newcomers, The Women’s Centre in Alberta offer support to these women who may not have the courage or may be embarrassed of their health issues, as shown in the short.  These clinics promote that a women’s health should come first and help is readily available.

“Our task is to find out how to encourage them, how to make it easier for them to seek help,” Dr. Tam Donnelly says in one of the closing segments about women of minority races.