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Local teens make video about breast cancer

November 03, 1997|By KATE COLEMAN

Nighttime crickets chirp as the camera zooms in on an upstairs window of a house that could be in almost any neighborhood in Middle-America - even yours.

Guess what. It is your neighborhood, or at least one that's close by.

The video was made in Hagerstown and features local young women.

A project of Y-ME of the Cumberland Valley, the local chapter of the breast cancer information and support organization, the video is designed to educate teens about the importance of breast self-examination as a tool in the early detection of breast cancer.

The scene shifts to a upstairs bedroom, where a bunch of teenage girls are caught in the act of what looks like a Friday-night sleepover.

There's pizza, nail polish and talk - talk that turns to prom dresses, to tanning beds, to talk of cancer, then to wondering what a teen named Samantha, a teen who had breast cancer, will wear to the prom.

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This is play-acting, and the actresses are good at it.

But Samantha is real, and so is the story of her breast cancer.

Samantha Mertz, now 18, was a 15-year-old sophomore at South Hagerstown High School when she developed a very rare form of breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and talks on camera calmly and openly about her feelings and fears.

Mertz worried about never finding a guy, or that guys would be rude or not see her as sexy or not want a wife or girlfriend with a "fake breast."

She was scared to tell her boyfriend, but he was reassuring.

"He was just glad he had me," she says.

Initially, Mertz had some doubts about appearing in a video which could be seen by thousands of people, maybe even some people she knows.

Now a music education major at Shepherd College, she believes that her participation will draw the attention of kids who might otherwise ignore a program in health class.

Sarah Wallace is a Williamsport High School sophomore who appears in the video. She believes that a locally made video with local actors will be more effective than if it were made in another city.

Amanda Elliott, a first-year student at Towson State University, agrees that it is better for teens to hear the important information from their peers.

Although she is a 21-year-old studying health education at Shepherd College, Jeanette Wolfe fits right in at the teen sleepover. She had done research about breast cancer for a public speaking class at Hagerstown Junior College a couple of years ago, so she already was familiar with the topic.

Paige Andrews, Heather Guessford, Catie Hall, Kanika James, Keecha Miles, Alisha Smith and Amy Swacina also participated in the project. Sharon Blevins portrayed the mom.

Breast cancer in teens and young women is rare.

Mertz says she had a one in two million chance of developing the cancer she had.

The video is not designed to scare its young audience, but to make the point that it is important for young women to become acquainted with the normal structure of their breasts, so that if there is a change, they will recognize it.

Dr. Julie Oakley, chief of Washington County Hospital's department of pediatrics, says instructing young women about breast self-exams is part of what she does in a routine physical examination. She tells them that they need to become familiar with their own "architecture." They are with their breasts all the time; doctors are not.

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