Michael Corvino tackles tough topics in cancer documentary

Eight years after cancer survivors Noel Storm and Casey Clabby met with NIU media instructor Michael Corvino in a DeKalb Starbucks, their dream of creating a documentary became a reality. On Jan. 17, their film, “Hidden Scars,” debuted before a crowd of more than 50 people at LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva.

“’Hidden Scars’ is meant to help women facing a mastectomy with the emotional impact (of it),” Storm, 69, said. “Hopefully our documentary will help others through their mastectomy journey and let them know there is hope and joy on the other side.”

Casey Clabby, 62, shared the sentiment.

“If we could help one woman have a better understanding of the emotions she may experience as she goes through the mastectomy process -and that she is not alone – our goal will have been achieved,” Clabby said.

Both residents of Sugar Grove, Storm and Clabby were strangers until their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital brought them together. Following double mastectomies – Noel in 2007 and Casey in 2009 – they had a need to help other women and creating a documentary seemed the best way to do so.

From left: Dr. Ghaderi, Noel Storm, Casey Clabby and Michael Corvino answer questions for the audience after a screening of ‘Hidden Scars’ at LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, IL.

“The different emotions and the intensity of emotions (I experienced following my mastectomy) caught me by surprise,” Clabby said. “No one had prepared me for this or even talked to me about experiencing them; I was experiencing the emotions common to the grief process.”

Clabby said grieving the loss of a body part was an important – and normal – part of her healing.

“(My breasts were) how I nurtured my children, what helped me feel feminine, and (were) part of my intimacy with my husband,” Clabby said. “Society puts great importance on a woman’s breasts, really unfairly. Noel and I felt so strongly and passionately about the need to let other women know about these emotions and that they were normal.”

The fact that the Storm and Clabby had zero film experience didn’t deter them. And after hearing their story and their vision over a cup of coffee, Corvino agreed to take on the project pro bono.

“It truly it has been a labor of love, there is no doubt about it,” Corvino, who has been teaching various production courses at NIU for more than a decade, said. “When you are putting this much time into it and you aren’t doing it for money, it’s because you really care about the subject matter.”

The documentary includes interviews with women from around the Chicagoland area who have had double and single mastectomies. From diagnosis to surgery and choosing to have reconstruction or opting not to undergo reconstruction, “Hidden Scars” tackles tough topics and emotions surrounding cancer.

“’Hidden Scars’ shares the raw, deep, yet hopeful journey,” Clabby said. “My hope is that others will understand (that) it is a process and there is no set timetable to get to the point of true healing.”

Clabby, a retired nurse, said it’s also an important film for members of the medical field to see as it tackles topics you can’t learn in a textbook.

“(Their healthcare team) would benefit from hearing the deep emotions and thoughts the women share in ‘Hidden Scars,’” Clabby said. “Medical students, nursing students and social work/counseling students need to get this in their training to help them better care and understand women going through a mastectomy.”

Storm said Corvino guided them through everything, describing him as a “very caring and generous person.” Clabby agreed.

“He helped with gentle guidance as Noel and I developed what we wanted ‘Hidden Scars’ to look like,” Clabby said. “His sensitivity and empathy made it possible for the women who shared their courageous stories and deep emotions and thoughts to feel comfortable during filming.”

Corvino donated his time and expertise to bring Storm and Clabby’s vision to the big screen. Over the course of eight years, the three strangers became friends, and the project became just as much a passion for Corvino.

“We have become extremely close,” Corvino said. “We have really shared so much, emotional discussions on both sides.”

After more than 1,000 hours of filmmaking, “Hidden Scars” is something the NIU instructor in incredibly proud of.

“To see it well received – by both patients and medical personnel – at the screening was a very awesome thing to witness,” Corvino said. Storm and Clabby are available to present “Hidden Scars” to groups at this time. For more information, contact them at caseyfinn13@yahoo.com

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