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Dear Talula, a film by Lori Benson

2006, 34 minutes
Review by Nicolette Westfall

Lori Benson potently documents her abrupt transition from new mother to a patient with breast cancer. Although the work is only 34 minutes long, it is an emotionally charged film that reveals great insight into her struggle with a mastectomy and life afterwards.

Footage of peaceful time with her young daughter, Talula, is alternated with the cold reality of the sterile hospital setting, tests, chemo therapy, and doctors. She does not spare the viewer from the raw war cancer takes on her body. A surgeon notes the increased difficulty with reconstruction after the mastectomy, as opposed to a simply breast enhancement.

There is a photo shoot, baring her scar, done with integrity. Flowers go with her to the hospital. Soft lighting echoes the warmth her family and friends provide during the stressful times.

The stark, white lab coats of doctors and surgeons reveal the coldness of accepting life as it is. Benson is one of those women who inherit the grimness of higher chances of breast and ovarian cancer. Whether she will get cancer in her remaining breast is not known—all she can do is continue on with life, but the anxiety and worry is ever present. The majority of breast cancer cases are, however, random, and so, those women may live life thinking they won’t get cancer—until it hits—so live life instead of worrying over it.

Keeping strong for the camera, Benson tackles each stage in the process with as much energy as is physically possible, while taking care of her daughter. When she first comes back from the hospital, Talula is understandably distressed by the change and cannot be consoled. Cancer strikes to the core of not only the patient, but family and friends as well.

She wants to know whether her daughter will suffer the same tragedy. At one point, her father speaks about losing another family member to breast cancer. It is hard on men too. Life in Manhattan, however, goes on, much like the yellow taxis that stream along the streets, taking her back and forth to the hospital.

Recognizing that her own reaction to the situation is paramount to her recovery, she infuses the filming with humour. Jokes about her weight after her chemo therapy—a pound for her jeans—help everyone (including the viewer) cope with the process.

The end of the piece shows Benson swinging Talula around in a park, where there are no stainless steal scalpels or hospital gowns or IVs. They are, for the moment, safe from cancer.

Nicolette Westfall
Nicolette Westfall is an interdisciplinary artist slash environmental activist from Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Her writing and photography have been published in a few places, including Neon Magazine, The Binnacle, and Pushing out the Boat.
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