February 4th marks World Cancer Day, a yearly reminder of the toll one of the world’s most misunderstood and potentially life threatening diseases takes on daily lives. In honour of this day, there will be screenings of No Evidence of Disease at theatres in Toronto (Carlton, The Revue), Saskatoon (Roxy), Edmonton (Princess), Cornwall (Port Theatre), and Regina (RPL, on the 5th), an insightful look at the men and women fighting to advocate for lesser known and lesser studied forms of the disease.
N.E.D. is a six piece rock band that tours the United States made up entirely of GYN doctors. Their goal isn’t only to instill hope and remind people how forms of female cancer can affect men and women alike, but to specifically raise awareness of various forms of GYN cancer (ovarian, cervical, labial, uterine). With no diagnostic test that can test for Stage 1 ovarian cancer, dreadfully underfunded research compared to other forms of the disease, and only between 750 and 800 doctors in the world that specialize in this field and potential treatments, the band has become a labour of love, and one suspects a form of psychological therapy for doctors who seem to be fighting a losing battle at the moment.
Each year 88,000 women will be diagnosed with some form of GYN cancer. 30,000 women will die from it. As such, director Andrea Kalin places just as much emphasis on the lives and bedside manners of the doctors and the experiences of their patients as they do the band. It’s a smart move, because while the band provides a necessary binding hook that brings everyone together, it’s the least interesting part of the story on a filmmaking level.
Kalin doesn’t exactly deliver a polished piece of documentary filmmaking, but that isn’t the point when the focus here is clearly placed on the struggle and emotion of the people involved. Her film is at its best when it focuses on individual stories and moments. Watching lead singer and all around badass Joanie Mayer Hope take a difficult job in a community that needs her most underlines perfectly just how in demand these doctors are. A sequence where Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth (who loves his job so much he takes work calls while in the green room at shows before encores) has to go through all the steps, red tape, and clearances necessary to perform a risky surgery on a patient that refuses a blood transfusion is more fascinating than anything most medical dramas could concoct.
It might not take the music the band puts out as more than a noble form of putting one’s time and money in the same place for a great cause, but it treats forms of cancer that demand more awareness with the utmost respect. It’s balances tragedy with relief, good will, and inspiring stories of survival and positivity that extend beyond the subjects’ on screen lives. It’s a great reminder that while many diseases remain unseen, a lot of those unseen diseases tend to get ignored as a result. Hopefully this film gets the message across to more viewers.