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Forward 50 2014

Alan Blassberg

Alan Blassberg can’t enter a Cheesecake Factory restaurant without thinking about breast cancer.

That’s where he was lunching when he got the call that his sister Sammy Blassberg had been diagnosed. The call would turn Blassberg from documentary filmmaker to activist.

Sammy Blassberg died in 2010, at age 47. That same year, Blassberg’s other sister Lisa Brandes was tested for the BRCA mutation, carried by one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews, which significantly increases one’s risk for cancer. After “much Jewish guilt,” she finally convinced Blassberg to do the same.

Both were positive. Lisa chose to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy. Blassberg chose to make a movie.

Men with a BRCA mutation face a 5% to 10% lifetime risk of breast cancer, in contrast to a 0.1% lifetime risk for men in the general population. For women, those risks run closer to 80%, perhaps partially explaining why men get lost in the shuffle.

Seeking to address the lack of awareness and stigma surrounding male breast cancer, Blassberg started a Kickstarter campaign. “Pink & Blue,” a documentary that follows both men and women dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, raised $75,500 in just 34 days. Since December 2013, Blassberg, 44, has filmed in 10 cities across America and interviewed more than 50 people.

“At the end of the day, if I can save one family from having to hear a relative moan in pain… that’s all I could ask for,” he told the Forward.

“There’s such social stigma about the word ‘breast.’ It doesn’t matter. Save your lives.”

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