Russell Blackstock is a senior reporter at the Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday.

Kiwi women being urged to shed a tear for breast cancer research

Blogger and film writer Helene Ravlich is fronting a groundbreaking cancer research campaign. Photo / Supplied
Blogger and film writer Helene Ravlich is fronting a groundbreaking cancer research campaign. Photo / Supplied

Film writer and beauty blogger Helene Ravlich has had a mastectomy after breast cancer returned.

The Kiwi mother-of-one first battled the disease three years ago and is recovering from having surgery in Auckland last week.

Despite the shock of the cancer returning, Ravlich, 44, is fronting a campaign by TV channel Rialto where women are being invited to free screenings of a tear-jerker movie where scientists will collect tears for new breast cancer research.

"As someone actively going through breast cancer for the second time, I applaud any initiative that encourages early detection for all women, and this new technology is designed for just that," she told the Herald on Sunday.

In 2013 Ravlich underwent radiotherapy and at the time was told the disease was at an early stage and non-invasive.

Despite the latest setback - which will see her facing two more rounds of surgery and reconstructive work - the brave mum is determined to help others.

"I feel so empowered that I can use my position as a film blogger with Rialto to help spread the word, and hopefully help make a difference as a result," she said.

On November 1, special breast cancer screenings will be conducted at Auckland's Academy Cinemas. In what is being billed as a world first, a team of scientists from Ascendant Dx in the United States will collect the tears of almost 500 female cinemagoers.

In a painless procedure, researchers will gently press on the skin below one eye and lightly place the end of absorbent fabric in the lower eyelid. Women will then be asked to keep the eye closed for about 3 minutes before the strip is removed.

The results will then be tested using a mass spectrometer. The test has the potential to confirm if a lump is malignant from the presence of certain protein biomarkers in the tear samples.

Ravlich has curated a series of tear-jerking movies for the screenings, including acclaimed romantic dramas Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Brooklyn, with Julie Walters.

"We are in the business of emotional journeys," Rialto Channel general manager Roger Wyllie said. "When we heard about this incredible research, we realised that our stories are producing an abundance of tears across the country."

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation is supporting the initiative and chief executive Van Henderson is excited to see such a trailblazing research project.

"New Zealand has one of the highest instances of breast cancer in the world and it touches so many Kiwi families, so to see this example of innovation in early detection is fantastic," Henderson said.

While enthusiastic about the endeavour, Henderson reiterated the vital importance of mammograms.

"This is still at a very early stage, so we continue to stress the importance of regular mammograms for Kiwi women.

"But we are thrilled to be supporting something that could add to the arsenal of tools we have to reduce the number of women dying from this terrible disease."

• Anyone who would like to attend one of the free screenings can register interest at: http://www.rialtochannel.co.nz/whats-on/rialto-channel-presents-the-breast-cancer-screenings.

- Herald on Sunday

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