On Set With MBC: Mary Jennings-Smith
One day in January 2018 I got an email from Living Beyond Breast Cancer asking if I would be interested in working as a patient advocate with Lilly Oncology. At the time I wasn’t really sure what was expected of me, but I jumped at the chance to do it. I thought it would be a great experience. Soon I received a formal invitation by Lilly Oncology inviting me to attend the filming of their Verzenio (abemaciclib) ad “Relentless.” Of course I said YES! [Abemaciclib is a CDK 4/6 inhibitor used to treat hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative metastatic breast cancers.]
Over the next few weeks, I was given contracts to sign and suggestions for makeup and clothes to wear [for the day they filmed the abemaciclib commercial]. Much to my surprise, I received payment from Lilly Oncology for my time on the shoot. I was so excited about the prospect of being involved in a shoot that I would have done it for free. But having some extra cash to pay for my treatments did come in handy. In addition, Lilly Oncology paid for my meals, lodging, and travel expenses to and from filming. I spent the night in a hotel and was picked up in the morning to travel to the first shoot and a filmed interview with me.
The interview was done at a home in Pasadena, California, that was rented for the first TV shoot of the day. I was amazed at the amount of equipment (and food) on site. My interview was the first thing we accomplished, in the backyard under a lemon tree. Sunny California was not cooperating that day, as it was a cloudy, cold, and windy morning.
My interviewer was gentle and patient as my chemobrain tried to answer questions about a variety of topics, including my experience living with metastatic breast cancer. I loved their use of the of the term “Relentless,” as I feel I try to be relentless in carrying on with what I want to do with my life. We talked about my travel bucket list, my relationship with my daughter (who I am so proud of), and my desire to spend as much time with my grandchildren as possible. My diagnosis came up, and the fact that I have been through many treatments over the past 12 years (now 13!).
I knew they were going to use parts of the interview for the “Relentless” campaign so I was a bit nervous. Huge cameras were focused on me, but after a while I forgot they were there. We ended the interview just as it started to rain. I was taken inside where I was introduced to the creative staff from Lilly, as well as the hired production staff. We sat in front of a TV screen watching the filming going on in another room. I was told I was free to comment on anything that didn’t feel real to me. I had a few suggestions and was pleased when they were passed on to the director. Afterwards I was able to meet the director briefly before heading to lunch.
After lunch under a canopy in front of another rented house, we had some time before the next shoot to explore downtown Pasadena. I felt so comfortable with everyone and they were warm and inviting to me. After much chatter while eating and drinking, we piled into vans and headed to the Pasadena Middle School Theater for the next shoot. The theater was beautiful! The shoot was held at night because we had to wait until the “little ballerinas” were out of school.
As I watched the commercial being made, I was surprised at how much I loved it and that I felt a real connection with the actress portraying the resilient metastatic breast cancer grandmother. Everything about the shoot reminded me of events in my life with my daughter and grandchildren. I could feel the strength in this film. I explained how I felt to the Lilly team and they were really pleased. They asked if I would like to meet the actress, which I had been hoping to do.
As I walked on the stage, the actress turned around and started walking towards me. She said “Are you Mary?” And I said, “Yes, and I loved your performance. I felt such a connection to you!” She replied, “Well, I have MBC, also.” I was blown away. I sure wasn’t expecting that, but it confirmed my feelings that this shoot really showed how MBC patients are thrivers and resilient! The actress and I had a long hug and I fought back tears. Then we all gathered for pictures and said our goodbyes. It was a long day and I was exhausted but my heart was beaming. I felt so lucky to have this experience and be an advocate for MBC.
Mary is a longtime LBBC Breast Cancer Helpline Volunteer. The Breast Cancer Helpline connects you to a trained volunteer who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and had experiences similar to your own. To be matched with a volunteer for emotional support, guidance and hope, please visit lbbc.org/helpline.