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Shelter Islander featured in new breast cancer documentary

COURTESY PHOTO A still from the new documentary, “Happygram,’ on breast cancer awareness and testing, which features Islander Towny Montant.

A still from the new documentary, “Happygram,’ on breast cancer awareness and testing, which features Islander Towny Montant.

When filmmaker Julie Marron, whose “Happygram” is one of the toasts of the Rhode Island International Film Festival, was looking for people to spotlight in her documentary about breast cancer, one number she called was Islander Towny Montant.

The film, which had a front-page review in the Providence Journal Saturday, August 8,, discusses the importance of further breast cancer testing for women with high breast tissue density, a demographic making up about 50 percent of all women in the United States.

Mr. Montant, sadly, knows this subject all too well.

Among the thousands of victims was Teresa Montant, Mr. Montant’s late wife, who was diagnosed with an eight-centimeter tumor three months after a “normal” mammogram. She became active in the breast cancer community, advocating for awareness of breast density until her passing in 2011.

“More women on Shelter Island are aware of this issue because of Teresa,” Mr. Montant said. Since Teresa’s death, he has continued to advocate for awareness by creating “Team Flamingo,” which raises money during the Shelter Island 10K, as well as continuing the “Real Men Wear Pink” fundraiser and photo shoot event each year on Crescent Beach.

“Happygram” — the title refers to a form letter women receive with so-called “normal”  results —  also advocates for more understanding when it comes to testing for breast cancer. The film notes that a majority of state legislatures don’t require doctors to inform women who get mammograms if they have dense breast tissue, or whether they should consider further testing. The misinformation many women receive has resulted in thousands of missed cancer cases, largely derailing these women’s chances of survival.

Filmmaker Marron interviewed several people for her film , including Mr. Montant, to get a clearer picture of how this is a life or death issue.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 231,840 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2015, and 40,290 will die from the disease.  About one in 8, or 12 percent of American women, will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

Ms. Marron said her hope, along with advocates such as Mr. Montant, is to stop these statistics from being needlessly enhanced. By spreading awareness of the dense tissue implications of testing, they hope to wake up more people to this risk.

Ms. Marron was inspired to make the film after Hallie Leighton, her best friend from their college days, was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer after a series of normal mammograms. The two became aware that this was not an unusual situation, and thus became involved to change public policy. Ms. Leighton met Teresa and Mr. Montant through breast cancer advocacy networks while lobbying for new legislation in Albany.

Ms. Leighton has subsequently died of cancer.

Ms. Marron recalled how struck she was by the stories she heard among her fellow advocates. They were either people who had been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer because mammography failed them, such as Teresa and Ms. Leighton, or those who had lost loved ones to this failure of the medical system, such as Mr. Montant.

“It’s a heroic story,” Ms. Marron said. “The people who are fighting this fight are the ones who have been directly affected by the issue.”

Mr. Montant echoed the sentiment: “No other husband should have to go through that.”