Although most cases of breast cancer can be prevented, it is still the second leading cause of death among women in the United States and affects more women worldwide than any other type of cancer. The disease has also had a profound impact on the West Chester University community. In an effort to recognize the effects of breast cancer on the campus community, this week West Chester University will host LUNAFEST, a national film festival that raises money for The Breast Cancer Fund. The festival is comprised of a diverse series of seven short films by women filmmakers that represent various aspects of female experience, and includes three selections from the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. West Chester professor Anne Herzog, one of the organizers of the event, said, “We all know women who are fighting breast cancer or have died far too young because of it. The numbers have reached epidemic proportions in this country. This is a chance to view some really interesting films and at the same time take an active step to fund breast cancer research and save women’s lives.”
The fourth annual LUNAFEST films explore a range of themes, including women’s body image, transgender issues, arranged marriages and cultural revolution, and also represent a wide variety of genres, from animated features to documentaries. Professor Rodney Mader, also organizing the festival, emphasized the possibility for social change in the event. “There is power in the communal experience of the aesthetic that is unpredictable,” he said. In the span of just a few years, West Chester has reeled from the loss of four faculty and staff members to breast cancer.
Last fall, Julia Pennell, a devoted librarian who worked in the Francis Harvey Green Library circulation department, died suddenly after struggling with cancer for years. Her friend and colleague Steve Marvin described her as an “upbeat, jovial person” who was open and friendly and “enjoyed life even though she knew it took a toll on her.” “She was the kind of unique individual who entered your system,” said Marvin. Pennell was dedicated to her work, even throughout her illness, and had many interests. Marvin fondly remembers her appreciation for the history of art in Chester County, work that she humorously characterized as the 3 B’s: Barns, Bridges, and the Brandywine.
“She was a fighter… the way she did things in life just never changed,” he said. Saundra Hall, a Professor emeritus in the Theatre Arts department, also passed away after her struggles with breast cancer. University President, Dr. Madeleine Wing Adler, described Hall as an outstanding teacher who went beyond the call of duty to support her students and colleagues. She said that Hall was extraordinarily supportive of her son, J. Peter Adler’s endeavors in the Theatre Arts at West Chester, aiding him with a production of his play and extending her help and expertise working with undergraduate students. Adler said that after the death of her son, “[Hall] was there for me, grieving along with me” and became a close friend.
In December of 2003, Dr. Elise Triano, Assistant Director of the Pre-Professional Program and Professor of Nursing, succumbed to breast cancer after undergoing a stem cell replacement, radiation treatment and chemo therapy. Triano was highly respected by both her students and her colleagues in the Biology department. She was instrumental in the foundation of the pharmaceutical product development program at the University and was known for her leadership skills as well as her unique ability to foster compromise.
Her close friend and colleague, Professor Leslie Slusher, said that “people who came in contact with her ended up having a deep respect for her and also really liking her.” Slusher said that Triano’s influence spreads beyond the University. “There are literally an army of doctors out there who attribute the help and guidance of their careers to Dr. Triano,” she said.
Triano was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was pregnant. At the time, she was also engaged in a research project about the disease. After her mastectomy, she requested a sample of the tissue that her pathologists were not using, and examined the sample for her own research. Slusher remembers that Triano said looking at the tissue sample “helped her to visualize the enemy.” As a researcher herself, she “knew what she was fighting” as well as the extent of her illness, Slusher said. Slusher described Triano as a teacher who had high expectations for both herself and her students.
Although it was difficult for her to talk about breast cancer in the classroom, she embraced the challenge and felt that it gave her the unique opportunity to discuss breast cancer both theoretically and from a patient’s perspective. The College of Health Sciences has named a scholarship in her memory. President Adler, a twotime survivor of breast cancer herself, said that Triano, Hall, and Pennell often joined her for brown bag lunch meetings where they would discuss their concerns about “wigs, chemo, and diet” and express their mutual support. “They helped me heal,” she said.
“They will always be a part of me. These women reflect the many of us surviving on campus and trying to follow the model of these extraordinary women.” See Take page 13 Another faculty member, Sell Professor of Nursing, died from breast cancer in August of 1991 after more than a decade of teaching at West Chester. Sell was the coordinator of senior level faculty for many years and taught medical surgical nursing. Her colleague Kathleen Devlin- Kelly recalls that she was a very dedicated and committed teacher who had very high expectations of her students and herself. “Even through her diagnosis and all of her treatment, she stayed on the job 100 percent, never letting up at all,” Devlin-Kelly said. Devlin-Kelly describes her as a warm and caring person with a wonderful sense of humor who was inspirational to her colleagues. “Because of her strength and determination, the health care professionals that treated her and worked with her were in awe of her,” she said. To honor her contributions to the University and to recognize her clinical excellence, the Health Sciences department created a scholarship in her memory that is awarded to a student in the nursing program each year. Proceeds from Lunafest benefit The Breast Cancer Fund, a national organization focused on education, outreach, and advocacy.
The films will be presented in Sykes Theater, on the ground floor of Sykes Student Union, Tuesday, March 22, with one showing from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and a second from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Tickets are $5 with a student ID and $10 for community members and will be available at the door.