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Interview with Perri Peltz

The Education of Dee Dee Ricks

HBO

How did you meet Dee Dee Ricks, a young, vibrant hedge-fund consultant who found herself fighting breast cancer in her late thirties?

Perri Peltz

Dee Dee and I share a mutual friend who knew of my interest in the issue of access to health care. Dee Dee had started documenting her battle with breast cancer because she feared if she didnt survive that her two young boys wouldnt have anything to remember her with. When the recession hit and Dee Dee became strapped financially, she stopped filming. That was when Dee Dee and I were introduced and Dee Dee showed me what was at the time about 250 hours of footage.

HBO

What was it like stepping into a project that had been underway for so long?

Perri Peltz

It was challenging because you dont have control, obviously, over whats been shot  its all done. And theres no going back on her treatment. We could shoot more interviews, but there was just a lot that I couldnt go back and redo. It was a lot like putting a puzzle together and trying to fill in the pieces.

HBO

How closely did you work with Dee Dee while you were fitting the story together?

Perri Peltz

After going through all these hours of footage and deciding there was a story there, the deal I made with Dee Dee was that she couldnt be involved until I had something to show her. Coming from a news background, I felt that there needed to be a distance, where she couldnt be calling the shots and deciding what went in and what came out. Dee Dee started this process documenting her personal experience and we both agreed that going forward she needed to take a step back which is difficult to do when you are someone who is used to being in control!

"I give Dee Dee enormous credit for allowing her very private story to be told in a very public arena."

HBO

When you started reviewing the tapes, what was your experience like, seeing the person she was at the start of the film, before she went through this huge personal change?

Perri Peltz

When I met Dee Dee, it wasnt the woman I saw at the beginning of the film  at all. She was already very involved in all these different philanthropies. I realized the evolution of her character was going to help tell the story of access to care and the inequities in our healthcare system, so on the one hand it was very positive. But on the other hand & it was a very different woman than the one sitting in front of me that day. Looking through all the footage, parts of it were very surprising. You know, Dee Dee made a lot of money very quickly. She hadnt grown up with that & and she really enjoyed it. I think shed be the first one to say now that when she looks back at this footage, she cringes when she sees that person. At the end of the documentary, shes the one who says that cancer really saved her life. I give Dee Dee enormous credit for allowing her very private story to be told in a very public arena. It was a difficult decision for her and one that she made so that people could be educated along with her about the inequities in our healthcare system.

HBO

The film captures the challenges that many women fighting breast cancer face in our healthcare system  can you explain what you saw?

Perri Peltz

In our own zip code, blocks away, there are women who cannot get the treatment they need. And it has nothing to do with medicine; it has only to do with access. And its an injustice that needs to be remedied. Many women said to us, Why would I get a mammogram if I ultimately cant pay for the treatment? As a society, we have to do something about that. The Patient Navigation System [used at the Ralph Lauren Center] is incredibly simple. Its people from your community who look like you and talk like you, who understand where you come from, what your language is, what your socio-economic situation is. Its somebody from your own backyard who is trained within the healthcare system to navigate for you  making sure you can get the drugs that you need, or the emergency Medicaid that you need. Patient navigation as founded by the wonderful Dr. Harold Freeman take the patient from the point of diagnosis to the very end. Its simple but it is incredibly effective.

HBO

In the end, what is the education that Dee Dee receives?

Perri Peltz

I believe that Dee Dee was actualized in this process. I think there were so many things, which like many of us who have insurance and the resources to pay for healthcare, dont deal with or dont even consider. We take them for granted. There is this one moment that you see in the documentary that was a real wakeup call. Dee Dees medical bills begin to arrive and she asks herself what you would do if you didnt have insurance or financial resources. Her quest for that answer leads her on a journey that makes a stop at the Ralph Lauren Center in Harlem. There, Dee Dee was introduced to Cynthia Dodson, who was also fighting breast cancer. Cynthia was a true inspiration for Dee Dee . She was one of those rare people who was always upbeat and always seemed to have a positive attitude. She showed Dee Dee a very different world than the one she had become accustomed to. Dee Dee came to help Cynthia and she did help her in so many ways. The two became best friends and Dee Dee became Cynthias healthcare proxy. But as much as Cynthia got from Dee Dee, Dee Dee would be the first person to tell you that it was Cynthia who was became her angel and inspires her to try and make the world a better place for the poor and uninsured.

The Education of Dee Dee Ricks