Namrata Singh Gujral and Meredith

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October 1: Namrata Singh Gujral and Meredith Gray
Namrata Singh Gujral and Meredith Gray: Breast Cancer Survivors and Filmmakers
Achievements: Namrata's film "1 a Minute" relates her experiences with breast cancer to those of women worldwide, and in Meredith's documentary "Naked," she bares her body to the camera to show other women that through suffering comes wisdom and another kind of beauty

Namrata Singh Gujral
After losing two aunts to the disease, Namrata Singh Gujral made sure to get mammograms regularly, and unfortunately in June 2008 she too was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Furious with the toll that cancer takes around the world, and terrified for herself and her nine-year-old daughter, Gujral decided to turn her harrowing journey into a positive outcome and launched the film “1 a Minute” while going through her third chemotherapy treatment.

Through “1 a Minute,” she hopes to shed light on the seriousness and urgency of the disease. She also wants to support her sisters (and brothers) who very quickly understand why the fight is called “battling” cancer and why one qualifies as a survivor in the aftermath. She wants to be able to provide families and friends with a glimpse of their loved ones’ real journey.

Although she believed strongly in the message, it was physically and emotionally difficult for her to make the documentary. After struggling to find financing, she decided to make the film on her own and frequently had to take breaks while directing, as she was still going through treatments during production.

Namrata says, “As I lay down between directing takes, I felt compelled to tell it as it is. I did not want to put lipstick on cancer. Cancer is ugly and will remain so.”

The film, by contrast, is hopeful, positive and uplifting, and stars internationally celebrated survivors including Olivia Newton-John, Jaclyn Smith and Melissa Etheridge, as well as interviews with top Western oncologist Dr. Dennis Slamon and Eastern medicine practitioner Dr. Deepak Chopra. Narrated by Kelly McGillis, the global docudrama “1 a Minute” is an unprecedented push to raise funds for a cure, promote awareness and support survivors of women’s cancers.

Meredith Gray
Meredith Gray was 49 years old when she received a second diagnosis of breast cancer. An annual mammogram had revealed abnormalities in her left breast. She would learn that she had the aggressive HER2+ form of the disease and no way to pay for treatment.

Three years earlier, Meredith had been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in her right breast. Following a lumpectomy, she underwent eight weeks of radiation therapy and walked away from the experience feeling cured, thankful and fortunate.

This time, the situation was different. Her new insurance carrier had required that she waive her right to make any cancer-related claims for an “indeterminable future” because of her pre-existing condition: breast cancer. She also faced a difficult decision. Without a double mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, the chance that her cancer would metastasize was significant. Within weeks, surgeons amputated both of her breasts and began reconstruction.

Meredith’s mother died of pancreatic cancer at age 53. Meredith was 15 years old. Fear and secrecy surrounded her mother’s diagnosis. No one was willing to discuss the “C-word.” No one helped her understand what her mother was experiencing. No one helped her understand what had happened to her family. Years later, she realized that many women don’t know what to expect when they receive the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer, and decided to share her journey in the most intimate way she could. She decided to get naked: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Frustrated by her personal dilemma with health insurance while confronting a life-threatening diagnosis, Meredith sought a documentary filmmaker to chronicle her battle not only with the disease but also with the failure of the American health care system to provide adequate help for the hundreds of thousands of women who have had, now have or will have breast cancer. Just three weeks after the lumpectomy, award-winning producer Roynn Lisa Simmons started shooting "Naked."

After Meredith’s first diagnosis, she began to volunteer for breast cancer causes in Connecticut. In addition to mentoring newly diagnosed women, Meredith writes magazine and newspaper articles profiling breast cancer survivors and serves on fund-raising committees for breast cancer organizations. After her insurance provider twice refused to pay more than a fraction of the cost of her reconstructive surgery, Meredith enlisted the support of Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell (also a breast cancer survivor) and the provider reversed its decision. She has also corresponded with Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman James Himes on health care reform issues.

Collaborating with photographer Claudia Hehr, Meredith is finishing the memoir of her most recent battle with breast cancer. Also titled “Naked,” the book is a narrative of her 12-month journey, accompanied by powerful images of her body as it changed — as she lost her breasts, her hair and the sense that she could depend on her body.

In the world of fashion, where Meredith has spent her career, body image is everything, and now she is determined to break down the stereotype of the “perfect body” and wants all women to understand that the loss of a breast or breasts does not make them less than whole. She hopes both the documentary and the book will help women discover the true meaning of beauty — the beauty found deep within.

Meredith was recently one of 10 distinguished women awarded a Jones New York Empowerment Fund grant, for her documentary.

Meredith Gray’s previous positions include editor-in-chief, Vogue Patterns magazine; fashion editor, Harper’s Bazaar; and fashion assistant, Vogue.