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Raising cancer awareness through film

After his mother's death, E. Meadow filmmaker is on a mission

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When East Meadow resident Adam Lawrence was in New York City on a hot, humid August morning in 2012, he received a text message from his mother, Mindy, with an update about her doctor’s visit. She had been feeling ill for several months and had visited a number of doctors. But when Lawrence looked down at his phone, his life changed forever. 

“Cancer,” the message read. 

“From that day on, I was never the same,” the now 33-year-old said. His mother had been diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.  

“The first thing I did was to Google what, exactly, ovarian cancer was,” Lawrence said. “It’s a cancer that’s gender-specific, so I didn’t really know much about it. I shouldn’t have Googled it, because all of these awful things kept coming up, especially about Stage 4 cancer, but I needed to know how I could help my mom.” 

Last November, Mindy, also of East Meadow, died at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. She was 57. “Watching someone you love die in front of you — and I have never seen anyone die in front me — is hard,” he said. “But it was not as hard as I thought it would be, because I knew she was at peace and not in pain. And that brought me some closure I didn’t know I would get.” 

Since his mother’s death, Lawrence has dedicated his time to writing a script for a short film called “Hope,” about ovarian cancer. As a co-founder of the New York City-based Beast of the East Productions, Lawrence, who has been a filmmaker for more than 10 years, has produced shorts that have aired at film festivals around the world, including the Cannes Film Festival in France. He set up a GoFundMe account to raise $10,000 to produce “Hope.” He has raised nearly $7,000 already. 

“I want to make a short that highlights what going through ovarian cancer is really like,” he said. “I feel that my mom’s voice will be heard through the short. I want to raise awareness. If this short helps even one person to diagnose any sort of illness, then my job is done.” 

Watching his mother fight the disease was difficult, Lawrence said. Once Mindy began receiving chemotherapy at the Monter Cancer Center in New Hyde Park, reality set in for him. 

Patients were treated in cubicles that were arranged in neat rows. Mindy put an inflatable palm tree in her cubicle, and hung a tropical-themed poster on the wall. She handed out chocolates to the nurses and always smiled. “Everyone knew her,” Lawrence recalled. “They loved her.” 

Mindy’s twin sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and received chemotherapy at the Monter Cancer Center alongside her a handful of times. “The doctors had to place them separately from each other so that they wouldn’t confuse them,” Lawrence said with a laugh. “My aunt, thankfully, now is a survivor, but her diagnosis had me thinking more about women’s cancers.” 

Mindy endured 13 lines of chemotherapy, with only one remission, her son said. “She was a fighter,” he said. “And that’s the best compliment I’ve heard about her from doctors and relatives.” 

As a side effect of the chemotherapy, Mindy had severe flu-like symptoms for several days after treatment. She also started losing her hair. “I offered to shave my head with hers so that she wouldn’t be alone in doing it,” Lawrence said, rubbing his head. He looked outside the window of the Subway shop in North Bellmore and folded his hands on the table in front of him. 

“To be honest with you,” he said, “there are people who wanted to charge my mom to shave her head.” He shook his head. “Those people don’t get what cancer really is.” 

So he called his longtime barber, Johnny from Johnny’s Place Barber Shop and Jewelry in East Meadow, to help. “When I told him about my mom and asked him if he could come over to the house to shave her head, he said, ‘It would be my honor.’ And that meant a lot to me.”

Last August, four years after her diagnosis, Mindy and her family went on a tropical cruise, a tradition that she adored and looked forward to each year. During previous cruises, Mindy would consider places to visit the following year, but not this time. “It’s like she knew something that she didn’t want to admit to us,” Adam said. 

Ovarian cancer affects about 1 in 40 women, according to John Riggs, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Nassau University Medical Center, said. “Unfortunately,” Riggs said, “it’s more commonly diagnosed in Stage 4.”

He explained that women who are past their childbearing years and are entering menopause, which typically begins in the late 40s to early 50s, are at a higher risk for ovarian cancer. “There are functional, normal cysts that come with each menstrual cycle,” Riggs said. “But once a woman reaches menopause, those cysts are not normal anymore. Some of those cysts can be interpreted as different types of ovarian cancers, and that’s when a diagnosis is important.” 

Riggs said that women in that age group should push for screenings if they feel something is not right with their bodies. “It’s very important for women to get screenings — whether it’s a blood test or ultrasound — if they feel like something is off, or if they have a strange feeling. Only you know your body and its normal and abnormal functions.”

As for Lawrence, he will not stop until his film hits the screens. “My mom will live through this film,” he said. “I carry her with me everywhere I go. I hope this film will make a difference in someone’s life.” 

To learn more about Adam Lawrence’s journey to produce “Hope,” visit his GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/hopefilm