Entries in Documentary (6)


Documentary Shows Beauty in the Face of Cancer

The Light that Shines via YouTube(PARIS) -- You would never guess that the woman in a photo who is smiling and swishing a pink tulle gown in front of the Eiffel Tower underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy and five surgeries when she was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. You would also never guess that after a yearlong remission, she was diagnosed with incurable bone cancer.

Jill Brzezinski-Conley is beautiful even with a gap in her dress where her right breast used to be, and she wants other women to feel that way too.

“If I could change one woman’s life, I would die the happiest woman,” she says during the opening of the 15-minute documentary about her, The Light That Shines.

The film already has more than 358,000 views, and it’s only been up for two weeks on

“A woman who’s diagnosed or already has it, I’m sure she’s scared and she feels alone,” Brzezinski-Conley told, addressing why she decided to share her story with the world. “I didn’t want people to feel alone anymore.”

In the documentary Brzezinski-Conley takes a trip to Paris to pose in couture gowns for photographer Sue Bryce, while first-time documentary maker Hailey Bartholomew films the experience. The film also includes reenactments of pivotal moments in Brzezinski-Conley’s story as she tells it – from crying in the car after the startling breast cancer diagnosis after just a few months of marriage to going out on a dinner date with her husband and ditching a fancy wig halfway through because “this isn’t me.”

Since the film debuted online, Brzezinski-Conley said she receives 500 messages a night from people all over the world who want to thank her for making their wives feel better about cancer, teaching their daughters to appreciate their bodies, or just being courageous enough to show her scarred chest. She’s received notes from fans in Poland, Russia, Kenya, India and New Zealand.

But perhaps the best reaction came from Brzezinski-Conley’s mother.

“She started crying and said, ‘I’ve never been so proud of you,’” Brzezinski-Conley said.

Still Brzezinski-Conley said she doesn’t want to sugarcoat her experience with cancer.

Doctors diagnosed Brzezinski-Conley with breast cancer when she was 31-years-old, and she had a double mastectomy as a result. Although she initially had two breast implants, one became infected because of the radiation, so it had to be removed.

“I’ve been through hell and back,” she told “The chemo was so intense. I felt like it was killing me. The side effects you hear about and read about – it was times ten. But good things are finally starting to happen. ”

Yet Brzezinski-Conley posed bare-chested for Bryce and Bartholomew proudly, flexing her arm muscles and smiling down at her scar in a few shots.

“If we can show everybody through her how to just be so beautiful, so beautiful with those scars out, then anybody pretty much can confront anything in themselves after seeing something that beautiful,” Bryce says in the film.

Brzezinski-Conley says in the film she has a prosthetic breast, but she doesn’t bother to wear it. She told that people talk about mastectomies and breast cancer, but they never show what it looks like, and she wanted to change that.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women of all races, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, the most recent year available, nearly 212,000 women were diagnosed with the disease.

“I will say that the entire time that she was without clothes I never saw any scars on her body,” Bryce said. “I only saw this incredible smile.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


"Waiting Room": Hundreds a Day Seek Hospital of 'Last Resort'

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Eric Morgan, in his 20s and planning to get married, arrives at Highland Hospital's emergency room, shaken that he has been diagnosed with a testicular tumor that is likely cancer.

Surgeons at a private hospital have turned him away for lack of insurance but tell him it's "urgent" he get care.

Demia Bruce -- out of work for a year -- anxiously waits in the same ER with his 5-year-old daughter, her face swollen and burning with fever.

Carl Connelly has overdosed on drugs and alcohol, and Davelo Lujuan can't bear the pain of his spinal bone spurs. They, too, wait.

A provocative new documentary, The Waiting Room, is a snapshot of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., one of the nation's busiest safety-net hospitals, which is stretched to the limit with 241 patients a day, mostly uninsured, who need medical care they can't afford.

The film, directed by Peter Nicks and getting Oscar buzz, opens at the IFC Center in New York City on Wednesday, Sept. 26 and in the greater Los Angeles area at Laemmle Theaters in Santa Monica, Pasadena and Claremont on Friday, Sept. 28, before showing around the country. The Waiting Room will also be aired by PBS in 2013.

Nicks follows 24 hours in the lives of artists, small business owners, factory workers and unemployed parents who have been hit hard by the economy -- and hit harder still by a healthcare system that has left them out.

Watch the trailer:


"Bring your breakfast, lunch and dinner -- everything honey," an African-American patient, who has been waiting for days to see a doctor, tells a new arrival.

They take a number and they wait, sometimes coming back two or three days in a row. It might be months before they can get a doctor's appointment. With only one operating room, the most urgent cases go first and the rest wait. A man with a survivable gunshot wound has waited two days to be seen.

"It is the place of last resort," said Nicks, 44, whose wife is a speech therapist at Highland Hospital and came home with stories of patients' troubled lives.

"Historically, these hospitals serve the indigent, the homeless and the mentally ill -- the population on the fringe of the system," said Nicks.

But today, patients who are down on their luck also come in to have their prescriptions refilled or to be hospitalized when a disease like diabetes has escalated.

"These people are using the waiting room as their doctor because they have no continuity of care," he said. "More and more people are losing their jobs and are showing up at the public hospitals."

Lujuan, a carpet layer who took a pay cut, bemoans his life as an unemployed daughter moves back home. He returns to Highland for his back pain: "I can't sleep at night -- the muscle relaxers don't work… My checking account is down. I don't know what to do."

Some of the best-trained doctors in the country, from schools like Harvard Medical, do their residencies in trauma at Highland, according to Nicks. Though the care is exemplary, these safety-net institutions are at risk for survival.

Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has waged a campaign to cut safety-net hospitals to close budget deficits. Just last March, he closed A.G. Holley hospital, a 100-bed institution in Palm Beach County specializing in tuberculosis. In April, a TB outbreak among the homeless caused 13 deaths.

Those who wait and those who work long hours to care for them cope with sickness, bureaucracy, frustration and difficult choices, but Nicks finds hope in the system. The nurse assistant who is the patient's first point of contact, Cynthia Johnson, has both compassion and humor in this overwhelming environment -- and lots of patience.

Johnson, a cheerful African-American with pink glasses, takes pride in being able to "spell every name, no matter what country."

Some patiently wait in line and others jump the queue, losing tempers and swearing at the overburdened staff.

"Get a grip," Johnson firmly tells one aggravated man, without losing her temper. He waits.

To director Nicks, she is the "symbol of the system and what we all want in our care -- an empathetic, caring individual, who sits down next to you and says, 'How are you doing?'"

In such a high-stress environment, it would seem logical that doctors and nurses would also burn out. But Nicks said, "We didn't see a ton of that."

"What's more revealing is that these doctors at public hospitals are a very unique group of people, a self-selecting group. They could choose to go elsewhere and make a lot more money, but they don't. It's akin to M*A*S*H*, like they are in a war -- they have that mentality."

"They love it, thrive on it," said Nicks. "You have to be wired a certain way to treat someone with empathy that smells and curses at you."

Nicks didn't want his film to be a typical "disaster documentary" like Waiting for Superman or Sicko, but storytelling.

"At this moment the health care debate voices are dominated by journalists and politicians and pundits," he said. "This is the voice of the people on the front lines."

"The waiting room was a metaphor for me," he said. "What are you waiting for? It really struck me that people wanted to talk about who they were."

Nicks dispels the myth that safety-net hospitals are free. The carpet layer with bone spurs who finally sees a specialist, but earns just a little too much to qualify for Charity Care, takes home a large bill for Highland's services.

Nicks shot 175 hours of raw footage over months, but captures just a day in the life of several characters in the hospital waiting room.

He previously worked as a staff producer for ABC News, as well as for the PBS series, Life 360.

"Some of the best scenes were not in the film," said Nicks. "In the end we wanted to make sure the patient population was represented in a diverse and accurate way."

Now he is creating an interactive digital project to continue the work of the film so people in waiting rooms across the country can share their own stories. "We want to collect cultural data that is valuable for the hospital," said Nicks.

Most of all, he said he hopes that the film will bring attention to the nation's ailing healthcare system just as the United States begins to roll out the contentious Affordable Care Act.

"I am not a policy expert and not even remotely a healthcare journalist," he said. "But what we do know from talking to people is that there is a lot going on behind the scenes … It's important to understand how the health care law affects the community and those served by the public hospitals."

As for Demia Bruce, his daughter was luckier than the son he lost at the age of 2 from a seizure. She was diagnosed with strep throat, given antibiotics and sent home.

Carl Connelly, whose drug addiction had sent him to Highland on repeated occasions, could not be released because the pastor who has given him shelter would not take him back. Connelly took up precious space in a bed that might have been given to another waiting patient.

The story of Eric Morgan, who is last seen standing alone and bewildered in the hospital parking lot, ends well, according to Nicks. Morgan was able to wade through the system and qualify for Charity Care and a $30,000 surgery revealed his tumor was not cancerous.

Morgan, who had banked sperm just in case, has since married the woman who accompanied him in such distress to Highland and they now live and work in Hawaii.

"We are all connected," said Nicks. "And we can't forget that. Insured or not, we must share the same values."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Mansome’: It’s Now a Man’s World Among Women’s Products

Jim Spellman/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- Murses, manx, and mantyhose, oh my. It seems like there is a growing trend of sticking “man” in front of all mainstream women’s products, but it’s much more than that.  There is a whole “mansome” revolution afoot.

Don’t tell Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds or Robin Williams but there is a new “manliness” of today. More than ever, men are taking great strides to improve their appearances. Gone are the days of hairy chests, scruffy facial hair and thrown-together outfits. Shaved bodies, smooth skin and sensational clothes are now part of the 21st-century male identity.

Companies, products and spas have gone to great lengths to accommodate men in a world of beauty and fashion. Even products like “fresh balls,” an antiperspirant for the male groin area, are on the market.

It’s all part of a revolution in “man-scaping.” A revolution so powerful, it is inspiring men to get manicures, pedicures, waxing treatments and much more.

Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker of the new documentary Mansome, released last Friday, met up with Nightline to spend a day getting “man-tastic.”

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Spurlock discussed the point of his film over a pedicure at the Bliss Spa in New York City.

“I think there’s a great question the film asks which is what does it mean to be a man,” he said.

The film Mansome features Jason Bateman and Will Arnett enjoying a lovely spa day, but in truth it’s not comic relief, it’s reality. Take manty-hose for example, even Madonna is glorifying the style in her “Girls Gone Wild” music video, where muscular men strut around in heels and pantyhose.

Being a man used to mean being fierce, savage, and hairy, but that’s not so much the case anymore. According to Spurlock, women might say that a perfect guy is comparable to the Brad Pitts and George Clooneys of the world who are the most aesthetically pleasing and also incredibly successful.

“I think you can be a sensitive male,” Spurlock said. “If you are a sensitive male, you are a male-icorn …Manicorn. You are the ever elusive perfect man.”

A few years ago we might call this uptick in grooming, metrosexual, just a style. Now we don’t call it anything because it has become so normal. According to Bliss Spa pedicurists, about 40 percent of their clients are men getting daily treatments like facials, treatments and even something called a “mankini” wax.

Saks Fifth Avenue stylist Eric Jennings told Nightline man bags or murses, man jewelry and MANX -- otherwise known as Spanks for men -- are hot fashion items right now.

“Most guys are now wearing this for vanity,” Jennings said, referring to a pair of MANX. “It will compress you up to 1 or 2 inches around the middle.”

But that’s not all. The underwear company Frigo sells a brand of luxury performance boxer briefs at $100 a pair, and said that the underwear is stretchy and adjustable.

“It keeps you stabilized and your bits and parts in place all day,” said Mathias Ingvarsson, the chief executive officer of RevolutionWear, the firm behind the brand. “You wouldn’t be surprised if a bra and underwear cost $200 in the store so we felt that it was time for the men to get the extra opportunity.”

So there you have it, the new revolution of what it means to be a man. Take a look around, some guy out there is wearing one-hundred dollar underwear, others have soft, smooth skin, and others impeccably dressed. Nonetheless, more men are becoming conscious and aware of where they measure up in society, and how they look.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


HBO's "Weight of the Nation": A New Solution to an Old Problem?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Obesity.  We know the word.  We know more than a third of American's are obese.  We know that the United States is facing an epidemic.  And we know more energy out than calories in help us lose weight.

So, why after almost 30 years of American's weight ticking up the scale has it suddenly called for a national campaign to change?

On Monday, HBO is debuting their four-part series called Weight of the Nation.  A collaborative effort with the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Institutes of Medicine, the series focuses on different issues surrounding the epidemic: consequences, choices, children in crisis and challenges.

Interesting facts from the documentary:

-- One out of five kids drink three or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day, accounting for an extra meal.

-- Less than 1 percent of Americas meet the criteria for ideal cardio-vascular health.

-- One in four adults get no physical activity.

-- Obesity costs $70 billion to American business in lost productivity.

-- Profit margin for soft drinks is 90 percent.  Profit margin for produce is 10 percent.

In viewing the films, one thing that stands out is the attempt to change the conversation about obesity.

"If you were told that your child is at risk for cancer, that would get your attention.  If you were told well, your child is at risk for some sort of brain disease -- that would get your attention," NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said in the series.  "Well, Obesity ought to be on that list."

"If we all don't now take this as an urgent national priority, we are all of us individually and as a nation going to pay a really serious price," Collins said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'OFF LABEL': Tribeca Film Captures Our Insatiable Appetite for Prescription Drugs

Andy Duffy(NEW YORK) -- Andy Duffy's first encounter with the world of drugs was as an Army medic at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where he forced resistant prisoners to endure excruciating pain.

Sgt. Duffy says superior officers ordered him to inject the veins of prisoners with 14-gauge needles to hydrate -- and to intimidate -- them during hunger strikes.

"These needles are used for really massive trauma…not in the veins but to put a hole through the chest to relieve pressure," he said.

The Iowa City boy had signed up just days after his 17th birthday -- March 19, 2003 -- in the midst of war lust after 9/11.

Then in a 2006 attack by rebels, shrapnel tore apart his lower right flank and back as Americans readied to hand the prison over to Iraqi authorities. "They mortared us instead," said Duffy.

Many of his fellow soldiers never made it back. Duffy did in October of 2006, but with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a mountain of prescription drugs that he says only made him worse.

"It was obvious altering the chemicals in my brain was not the answer," he said. "My [PTSD] was not an imbalance, but from an experience."

Now, Duffy's journey is told in a quirky but powerful documentary about eight Americans whose lives are ruled by pharmaceutical drugs.

In the film OFF LABEL, directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher investigate the epidemic of skyrocketing use of medication, following such disparate characters as human guinea pigs in drug testing, a former pharmaceutical rep and a mother who blames a drug study for her son's suicide.

Though the characters never interact, "they speak as one voice, coming up from the depths of the margins of American society," said Palmieri.

The documentary, which follows the directors' 2009 film October Country, premieres April 19 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The directors owe much of their research and inspiration to Carl Elliott, associate professor at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota and author of Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream.

"It is an astonishingly moving, lyrical film that also manages to be very funny," said Elliott, who has been critical of America's insatiable appetite for drugs. "I loved everything about it. There is more humanity in this film than anything I have ever seen or read about pharmaceuticals."

The film is dedicated to Mary Weiss of Minneapolis, whose son Dan Markingson was admitted in 2003 to a psychiatric hospital with delusions and was prescribed the antidepressant Seroquel by his attending physician, who was involved in the marketing study of that drug.

Weiss said she believed her son was going to hurt himself and begged doctors to take him out of the study.

"He was legal age, so we couldn't," says Weiss in the film. "But he was deteriorating and gaunt and believed he was plagued by devils. He was psychotic."

After five months in the trial, at age 27, Markingson slashed himself to death in a gruesome suicide. "They let him die," says his mother.

Today, because of her efforts, "Dan's Law" was passed in 2009 in Minnesota to protect patients from medical conflicts of interest in clinical trials.

Both Weiss's son and Duffy "speak to crisis side of the issue," said director Mosher. "There is real damage to people and these are the strongest examples. Both of them are the most harrowing examples of abuse of trust by doctors."

The documentary looks at the situation from the industry side, following Michael Oldani, a medical anthropologist who once worked as a drug rep for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

"Ultimately, we are all implicated, not just the pharmaceutical companies or drug reps or doctors prescribing meds for people," said director Palmieri. "In the end we do need medicine, but the system we all participate in is kind of crazy, where the quick-fix approach is easier, but not necessarily better."

It was that approach at the Veterans Administration that victimizes people like Duffy, according to the documentary.

He was prescribed dozens of antidepressants, sleep aids and anti-anxiety drugs in place of psychological counseling to get over his flashbacks, nightmares and sleeplessness.

Today, at 26, Sgt. Andy Duffy finds psychological support working with fellow veterans.

Even a chimp in a zoo gets behavioral therapy when prescribed drugs for depression, according to the film.

"I was on four meds at a time," Duffy told ABC News. "The drugs were preventing me from moving forward. I basically was numbing myself to escape things."

He ballooned in weight from 140 to 196 pounds and was tired all the time. "I had much more suicidal thoughts with all this medication," said Duffy.

But the VA had contracts with certain drug companies that prevented doctors from adjusting his drugs and long waiting lists to see a psychologist.

"Literally, if there is a medicine that saves a life -- at the VA, if they don't have a contract, you probably are not going to get that drug."

"It was easier and cheaper for the government to dispense out meds," Duffy said.

In a moment of clarity, Duffy went off all medications and was able to quiet his demons by finding the support he needed from other war veterans.

Today, he is going to school to study social work and is active with Veterans for Peace and formed his own group, Veterans Relief.

"I realized that what I really needed was talk therapy," he said. "And it helped me so much. There were so many guys out there with the exact same problem who understood where I was coming from.

"They didn't just give me a sterile answer and shove me on the street with a bunch of pills in my pocket."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Documentary Reveals the Good, Bad, Ugly of Menopause

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- "When I think of menopause, I think of hate, pure clean hate," one woman said in the new documentary Hot Flash Havoc.

"I told my wife if she goes through menopause again, we're getting a divorce," a husband said.

Nevertheless, "you're very lucky to reach menopause," another woman said. "If you don't reach it, you have some troubles."

Hot Flash Havoc, a film of "menopausal proportions," is a documentary meant to examine menopausal symptoms, reveal the history and society's view on menopause and even question the results from an ongoing National Institutes of Health initiative, which, in 2002, discouraged women from taking estrogen plus progesterone to treat symptoms of menopause.

For some women, menopause symptoms are much more than the occasional hot flash. Depression, low libido, night sweats and panic attacks are only a few of the many indications that storm through the body of a menopausal woman.

The controversial documentary will be released to the public March 30.

The beginning of the documentary creates a playful dialogue on the experiences and expectations of menopause and menstruation.

For one woman, the roundabout way in which she was told about her feminine health left her confused for decades.

"Your Aunt Tilly is going to visit you once a month, and she's going to hang around for about 30 years," the interviewee described how her menstrual cycle was explained. "When Aunt Tilly dies, you'll know about it cause she won't come around no more. Who the hell is Aunt Tilly?"

The majority of the film documents the benefits of estrogen replacement therapy, commonly taken to curb hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. It particularly criticizes a NIH Women's Health Initiative study, which, in 2002, found that women taking estrogen were at higher risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Researchers halted the clinical trial altogether in 2002 because of the noted increased risk.

Filmmakers and menopause experts interviewed in the documentary argue that the 2002 study results were misrepresented, and led millions of menopausal women to unnecessarily stop taking hormones that otherwise curbed debilitating symptoms sometimes associated with menopause.

And research released last week in the Lancet reignited this debate when a study found that estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy might lower the risk of breast cancer for some postmenopausal women. While the findings were specific to women who have had a hysterectomy, have no increased risk of breast cancer and no increased risk of strokes and blood clots, advocates of hormone therapy welcomed the results.

"Menopause has been this secret filled with shame, anxiety and confusion for centuries," said Heidi Houston, executive producer of the film. "The movie is intended to give information so every woman can make informed decisions about treating menopause and allow women to become health care advocates for themselves."

Prior to the 2002 study, some preliminary research found that the menopausal hormone therapy actually helped to decrease the risk of heart disease, but the preliminary data found the treatment did not decrease risk and put women at increased risk of some invasive breast cancers and stroke. Prior to the study results, hormones were one of the most prescribed drugs in the country.

But the use of estrogen dropped by 71 percent from 2001 to 2009, according to the North American Menopause Society.

"Women with a uterus who are currently taking estrogen plus progestin should have a serious talk with their doctor to see if they should continue it," Dr. Jacques Rossouw, acting director of the WHI at the time, explained in 2002. "If they are taking this hormone combination for short-term relief of symptoms, it may be reasonable to continue since the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks. Longer term use or use for disease prevention must be re-evaluated given the multiple adverse effects noted in WHI."

Dr. Marcia Stefanick, a researcher on the WHI study, told ABC News that the questions the initiative set out to answer were not specifically on menopause, but about the health risks and benefits of menopausal hormones for older women, "for whom they were being prescribed to prevent common diseases of aging women (i.e. heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia)."

"As it turns out, menopausal hormone therapy did not reduce heart disease in older women and it increased strokes," Stefanick said.

The treatment indeed helps to curb hot flashes. It also helps prevent vaginal dryness and preventive bone loss, she said. While temporary use of the treatment likely has mild risks, women deserve to know them, Stefanick said. And menopausal hormone therapy taken for several years has shown an even greater risk of the adverse health conditions.

But critics of the study said the patient population was skewed. While the study included more than 16,000 women ages 50 to 79, the average age of women in the study was 63. On average, women begin menopause around 51 years of age, when most women will experience the most severe of their symptoms.

"There was no question that there were more risks for women over 60 years of age," Dr. June La Valleur, director of the Mature Women's Center at University of Minnesota Medical Center, wrote in an email. "Women need to have options and to say that no one should use estrogen or estrogen/progestin therapy for menopausal symptoms is absurd."

Dr. Alan Altman, president of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health and a menopausal expert interviewed on the documentary, told ABC News, "Women were instilled with fear that wasn't necessary and they need to understand that they can let that fear go and make a good, educated decision about menopausal hormone treatment."

New WHI data came out in 2008 and found that three years after women stopped taking the hormone therapy, increased risk of heart disease diminished. But women were still at a slightly increased risk of stroke, blood clots and cancer.

As for Houston, the executive producer said the motivation for the documentary came from her own challenges in dealing with menopause and not knowing all her options.

"Menopause is a natural change that is going to happen to everyone," Houston said. "I believe we have the right to have all the information available to us so we women can make our own choices. Whatever a woman's choice is, whether she wants to take hormones or not, it doesn't matter, as long as she has the options so she can decide on how to have the best quality of life."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio