The unspoken disease that can destroy families


Special To The Japan Times

Of the 17,500 cases of uterine cancer reported yearly in Japan, nearly half are cervical cancer, usually triggered by a virus spread by sexual intercourse. Because of this, sufferers often conceal the fact from friends and families and continue working at their jobs as if nothing is wrong — until pain and exhaustion catch up.

Yet who can blame women for their silence? Cervical cancer comes with a social stigma and, once the secret is out, a woman’s chances for marriage, career stability and social respect could well be destroyed overnight.

Director Yasuyuki Ebihara’s first feature film, “Inochi no Call: Mrs. Inga wo Shitte Imasuka?” (“Lifeline: Do You Know Mrs. Inga?”), tells the tale of a young woman who is newly married and in the clutches of cervical cancer.

In the film, Tamaki (Misako Yasuda) discovers she has cervical cancer just before her marriage to Takashi (Kenki Yamaguchi). Ebihara and screenwriter Akio Nanki pull no punches in tracing her tragedy: Following surgical removal of her uterus and ovaries, Tamaki transforms from a happy, spirited young woman to a depressed recluse, unable to get out of bed or function as a housewife. Though he is supportive at first, the burden begins to weigh on Takashi. At the same time, he can’t get over the suspicion that Tamaki slept around before they met, and that this was the direct cause of her illness.

“There’s no denying it, this isn’t a happy story,” Ebihara tells The Japan Times. “The terrible thing about a disease such as cervical cancer is that no one walks away undamaged. Takashi isn’t a bad guy, but he lacks knowledge and information, and so he’s not in an ideal position to help his wife.

“In this respect, Tamaki is in the same boat. If she had been aware beforehand of cervical cancer, its causes and consequences, she could have protected herself by going through an exam.”

The symptoms include acute abdominal pain, sudden loss of motor control, nervousness and chronic fatigue. Any woman with a sexual relationship is at risk, even if she has only one partner. This is why it’s best to get an annual checkup, as recommended by almost every municipal office in Japan.

“This really shouldn’t be a women-only issue,” says Ebihara. “What a lot of men in this country fail to realize is that it takes two to have a sexual relationship, two to get married, have a baby and start a family. The traditional male stance has been to step back and let women handle much of the responsibility of life issues.”

It’s rare to hear such words from a Japanese man, and a Kyushu danji at that. (Men from Kyushu, in southern Japan, are considered to make particularly domineering husbands.) Hailing from Miyazaki Prefecture, Ebihara, 32, grew up in what he describes as “a typical Kyushu household,” meaning that the father has the last word but stays clear of the actual day-to-day work involved in running a home and raising the kids.

On the other hand, Ebihara stresses: “My father isn’t mean in any way; in fact he’s a kind, fair person. But he’s still a man of tradition, as I think many Japanese men are. They (men) can’t understand what women go through in life, and they’re certainly uninformed about things like cervical cancer.”

Ebihara himself, however, is alert to the “position of the socially defenseless,” as we say in Japan — though he himself prefers to use the term “troubled people who tend to be misunderstood by society.” In Ebihara’s view, sufferers of cervical cancer are especially vulnerable, because they tend to be relatively young women who have much to lose by admitting they have a problem, and because the disease is a sexual one. “Unfortunately, this affects only women,” says Ebihara. “So it’s very hard for men to relate, and to empathize.”

Ebihara’s project was inspired and aided by film producer Mayumi Watanabe, who came up with the idea of making a movie about cervical cancer. She herself died of the disease in 2012.

“One of the things I learned from Watanabe is the amount of discrimination surrounding cervical cancer,” says Ebihara. “Patients are left defenseless against prejudice and discrimination, and often they have nowhere to turn. That simply shouldn’t happen.”

“Inochi no Call” is now showing.

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    It’s high time Japan introduces Homeopathy and Ayurveda into their National Medicine. Ayurveda offers a wide range of safe & effective medications + Therapies like Yoni Prakshalanam (योनि प्रक्षालनम्)= washing & detoxifying a vagina with medicated liquids, Pichu Dharanam (पिचु धारणम्)= holding a medicated swab in vagina etc.for treating women’s diseases related with their Reproductive System. Homeopathy is capable of treating STD right from the root cause.
    [Well, I have taught some of the Therapies to my Japanese student Miss Kayoko Shimazaki.]

    • Starviking

      I think evidence-based medicine is needed, not mumbo-jumbo.

      • Chandrakant Kulkarni

        Majority of Homeopathic remedies are WELL PROVEN. And Bach Flower Remedies do not have any Provings, but still those remedies give astonishing results! Many research papers indicating the efficacy of Ayurveda medications & Procedures are available.

      • Sam Gilman

        No, they’re not well-proven. Be off with you and your quack remedies. They do serious real-world damage.

      • Chandrakant Kulkarni

        Please refer to AlterNet of 9th June, 2014. It describes how a big multinational company fooled EPA, US and played with many US lives.

      • Starviking

        And once again, nothing to prove the efficacy of the rubbish you are peddling.

      • Chandrakant Kulkarni

        Please refer to AlterNet of 9th June,2014.
        It describes how a big multinational company fooled EPA, US and played with the lives of US people. This horrible story is ‘evidence-based’…

      • Starviking

        Read the article. Nothing about the multinational “fooling” the EPA, save in the article title – which is pretty typical for reality-challenged people. Collecting information on EPA board members is not “fooling”.

        Nice attempt at tying “evidence-based” to “shady dealing”, but a failure. I guess you are too used to the shady world?

    • Gordon Graham

      There’s a vaccine for the virus that is the main cause of cervical cancer.

  • I don’t think we can measure how much social pressure is real and how much is a manufactured projection about how others will react in the mind of the person, or how much is legitimate shame for what they actually have done, or how much is simple shock from this terrible news or their lack of confidence in their ability to handle it.

    This issue is much more complicated than simply casting women as “victims” of men’s “traditional” outlook.

    I don’t normally comment directly about myself here, but I have some experience that is topical:

    I was in a relationship with a (Japanese) woman whom this happened to and she shut down all by herself. I offered nothing but support and understanding, and she chose a path of believing the worst about everyone around her. She chose to be alone, she chose to isolate herself, and no one was shaming her, least of all myself.

    While she eventually recovered physically, she never recovered psychologically from how that situation exposed her hidden fears about others and life. Her experiences in childhood and adolescence had led her to draw conclusions about how people necessarily have to be, and she let those experiences color her present and future experiences with others who had nothing to do with those experiences.

    She assumed she would be rejected, that she would be shamed, she assumed that no one would understand, and so, that is the experience she created for herself — by rejecting those who were trying to support her. Her own beliefs and past experiences blinded her to even attempting to evaluate the actual reactions and opinions of the people here and now, around her.

    I believe that a large danger for people in situations like this can be their own dangerous beliefs carried from the past. In this case, assuming that the rejection you felt in the past is something that each new person you meet intends to inflict on you if you let your guard down. The belief that you have no control but to be around people who are like that. The belief that you will be abandoned when the chips are down, so you should spare yourself this inevitable realization by rejecting others first; or, even more twistedly: deliberately treating others in such a way as to invite and facilitate that rejection, as to maintain the integrity of your own facade.

  • Sam Gilman

    No, you didn’t. Chandrakant Kulkarni, please stop spamming this page (and, in fact the Internet) with your criminally pernicious nonsense.

  • Ask Ati

    Increase of Cervical Cancer, and intestinal cancers on the rise in Japan??? Well I hate to say this but would it be due to the Radioactivity leaking from Fukushima Nuclear plant into the oceans and surrounding areas???

    • Sam Gilman

      No, it wouldn’t. Wrong kind of cancer, too soon.

      • Ask Ati

        You must of never met anyone that grew up near Nuclear plants, that glow in the dark effect is real!!!!

    • Warren Lauzon

      Wrong, in so many ways. Do some research instead of knee-jerking on the headlines.

      • Ask Ati

        Research was done, take for instance the increases in rates of all four major types of cancer after the Chernobyl Nuclear plant disaster in Russia also the Three Mile Island disaster within and around Pennsylvania, USA. The rates of cancers and the populations that grew up within miles of these types of nuclear plant radiation leaks was profoundly evident that leaks do immense amounts of damage to the civilian cancer growth rates around these plants and even generations afterwards. Any other denial-of-fact wishers’ responses???

  • Gordon Graham

    Selling false hope to dying people isn’t funny either

  • Mary Coker

    Dear, Carintia.

    I am glad to hear you got your cancer cured. I’ve never had cancer, and hope I never do, as I try to eat and live in a healthy and green way. A holistic approach is truly the way to go. Unless you are in an extreme case like living by Fukushima or your DNA was fudgeup from birth, most cancers and ills are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. Food, water, and air quality being some of the biggest triggers for future ills both big and small. Glad to hear a holistic approach helped to heal you. ;)

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    You are 101% right, Sir.
    Both varieties of cannabis ( = sativa & indica ) in potentized form are great homeopathic remedies.

  • Alex Tran

    There is a herb medicine name Crila for Prostate/Uterine Health. You can search it. It’s natural medicine.

  • Elspeth Chagall

    There is a vaccine. However, it hasn’t been proven that it’s effective plus it does have its side effects–personally, if I had a daughter I wouldn’t make her get it–just one more thing Big Pharma is trying to cram down our throats. Sad part is, the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a very popular virus–by popular I mean that it’s everywhere. This is the virus that causes warts– not only genital warts but warts in general so sex is not the only means you can pick it up. I had warts as a child and it’s the same virus, have no clue how I got it but it wasn’t through intercourse ;-). But even still, like any other OB/GYN cancer, cervical cancer can be detected with a regular Pap test