Now that my last treatment (hopefully) for Colorectal Cancer is “behind” me, I’m finally letting go of keeping it on the DL and ready to “come out” about my experience. Since having a tumor removed in March (a week before I started rehearsals for “Dear Evan Hansen” at Second Stage) I’ve learned quite a lot about my own control issues, rage, general weirdness, empathy I never thought I could feel so deeply, what REAL fatigue from the deepest recesses of one’s soul feels like, how AMAZING my friends and family are, and what I am like on “pot” during the day again (something I haven’t experienced since college).
I’ve kept this news off Facebook and out of “the business” because I’ve seen other people come to work sick and be judged and/or penalized (by myself, admittedly, included; i.e. “why did she take this job if she is still recovering??”). I’ll tell you a couple of good reasons why; 1. INSURANCE 2. SURVIVAL. Feel free to chime in if you disagree, but I think Musical Theatre MAY be the hardest business to get sick in. Performers work so hard doing 8 shows a week and are often given the third degree when they have to call in sick, becoming the victims of endless demands about their personal life and empty advice on how to “get better”. I admit, I once DID call in sick to “Addams Family” because I knew there was no frickin’ way they would give me an extra day off, and there was also no way I was going to abandon my best friend who had just had a double mastectomy and whose husband was going to be at work all day.
Days before my surgery, I was scrambling to get my insurance back because I had always been too much of an idiot to figure out ObamaCare, and I figured I could coast without it for a while. When this suddenly happened tho, I had to buy into Cobra and apply for financial aide. I CANNOT THANK the Actor’s Fund (particularly Allison Abrahms and Bill Fitzgerald) enough. They not only helped me with my insurance, but they also PAID (along with 2 other amazing charities they hooked me up with; MusiCares and the Episcopal Actor’s Guild) for one of my medications (Capecitabine) which (after making the Cigna lady repeat about 5 times that indeed, this was the price WITH insurance) was $650 PER round (so multiply that by 8). That’s a pretty fun price when your Off-Broadway take home pay doesn’t clear 500 bucks, but AT LEAST YOU HAVE INSURANCE!… (For now).
My only run-thru at “Evan Hansen” with tech and costumes was the same day of my first chemo treatment. My voice felt weird, and I screamed inside when I had to pick up a chilled glass of wine (forgetting about the neuropathy side-effect) but otherwise, I got thru it. I’m still not sure whether hiding it was the right answer. Thoughts? My agents don’t even know, unless they are reading this (I don’t know them very well and was afraid to tell them) but I hope I didn’t screw myself over with the wonderful Tara Rubin who was casting a show a few weeks ago that I had to bag out of auditions for due to tremendous fatigue after a 40 minute marathon of an audition for a show seconds before I was supposed to go to the her audition (as they say, it’s a draught or a flood; there are no auditions for weeks and then there are 2 auditions for Sondheim shows within the same HOUR of each other). After that first audition, I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor and watched the minutes tick closer to the 2nd audition. Like I said, the fatigue that sometimes hits me is deeper than I’ve ever felt and, in hindsight, I realize that one audition a day may have been more than enough (sometimes walking up the SUBWAY stairs is more than enough) but again, I ask, should I have told people? I almost told my agents that day, but I ended up writing an apology to Tara instead, hoping that I didn’t leave a bad taste in her mouth. It’s such a Catch 22, knowing that you will be fine by the time the gig starts (in November or whenever), but that if you show any sign of weakness at all, you could be screwed (unless you are, of course, an employee of Lin-Manual Miranda who has that rare sense of family with his casts and takes care of his sick co-workers with grace and anonymity until they are strong again).
The Actor’s Fund, MusiCares and the Episcopal Actor’s Guild not only helped pay for my meds, but they also helped me with my rent and gave me a “cancer box” (which included a book about having cancer that I got high and vandalized, which was just as effective in my healing as actually reading the book:). Excerpts:
(Actually, now that I’m looking at it again, it seems to have a lot of helpful stuff, but I guess I never got past the forward. I think I should read this now. Any book with a section on constipation is helpful at this point…) Also, if you don’t know what it means, don’t ask. I was high, because when you have cancer, you get showered with endless amounts of weed.
I am most humbled by and grateful for my SISTER, my PARENTS (I probably don’t deserve it, but my parents are AMAZING people, ergo, their friends have been amazing to me. There are so many people in the parents’ friends/family category to name, but hopefully I will get thank you cards to them all, eventually. Monetary donations poured in to help with meds, co-pays, food, shoes that would be easier on my feet because of the horrible “hand-foot syndrome” and general help at a time when sleeping was my #1 hobby. Wonderful care packages with treats brought smiles to my mailbox (with honorable mentions-i.e. most cards and treats sent- going to the Lattys, Rick Bealer and Lynn Bozzay.) My in-the-know friends have been equally amazing. The other understudies held my hand (and held me up) during “Evan Hansen” and so did the amazing women in the dressing room. The 2 INCREDIBLE women that I understudied (Rachel Bay Jones and Jennifer Laura Thompson) who I’m sure will both win Tony’s for their roles in one of the most amazing shows I have ever had the honor to be a part of) were so loving and motherly; Rachel with her anecdotes for neuropathy from her parents’ store and JLT with her kind eyes and ears. They are both SO selfless and caring; always checking in, along with the other WONDERFUL women in that dressing room. What an amazing bunch. Asa Somers – a dear friend from way back – was the first I told before rehearsal even started because I needed someone trustworthy in my corner. The doctor had said I would be particularly tired the first month after surgery and I was freaked out that anyone would smell it on me. Asa checked in constantly. He is such a good human, and also always has a great dad joke under his belt to turn an entire room uncomfortable. But that’s ok because he’s HOT! I always tell him that he is one of the rare dudes in musical theatre that is super hot and doesn’t know it so therefore a good person and not a lady leap-frogger like most other (very rare) hot, straight dudes in musical theatre. The other understudies; Remy Zaken, Gerard Cononico and Emile Battle (who gave me a mind blowing amt. of soothing treats, and whose parents sent me an amazing care package and an offer to talk anytime – her mom’s a therapist #WhatAFamily) sat on the roof of 2nd stage with me after my first treatment (as we came off our high from our one and only real run thru) and listened as I tried to describe how my hands were seizing up in the cold after Gerard so lovingly asked me how it all felt. Oh yeah, then – towards the end of the show, I secretly started throwing up and continued to into the early morning until my sister finally had to take me to the ER. That was another time I ALMOST had to tell Stage Management, but I was full of morphine and ready to rock by the next day.
Laurie Brown Kindred has been the most incredible friend ever. She survived Breast Cancer and, unlike me, shouted it from the mountain tops via Blogs and any other social tool she could get her hands on. I felt like such a pussy compared to her (who never seemed sick) when I was barfing every hour until 5 in the morning and probably traumatizing her poor children who sat on the couch with their iPads and kept asking me if I was OK. This, hopefully, will not embarrass Laurie, but I have also learned a TON about my intimacy issues during all of this. I was so scared to have friends come take care of me because I always feel a need to entertain, but Laurie bulldozed thru my BS, and I would wake up to Carrie Rohm sitting on my bed, then fall asleep and wake up to Stacia Williams sitting outside with me, then fall asleep and wake up to Patti Luther sitting on my couch saying, “I have been ordered to make you a smoothie” (ps Patti, I still have your tupperware when you need it!). My favorite moment, tho was (after the initial discomfort of Laurie joining my vomit-face in the bathroom by just sitting on the edge of the tub and being with me), when I laid my head in her lap and, after a moment, felt a tear fall into my ear. I have never known there could be such love between “chosen family”, and I can’t tell you how many times I have, since apologized to her for wanting a “do-over” for my stupid-ass speech at her wedding (my way of dealing with my nerves is usually to just ignore that a thing is going to happen and not prepare at all, which is a great idea for a shy person who ends up calling herself a “dirty whore” in front of all of her best friend’s family, instead of telling them how amazing Laurie Brown is… ’cause she is you guys. The best.) Laurie has helped me in more ways than I can even count, starting with coming to appointments with me from the very beginning and talking to EVERYONE in my life (ie telling my dad on the phone the day we found out because I knew I would break down into tears if I had to tell him myself…) and being my advocate (see blog post here: https://badrightbreast.com; I am “George”:) My other chosen family, Scotte Hardin and Amanda Antenucci have also come to appointments with me, visited me in the hospital and brought me “comic relief” (I love this picture of Scotte and Todd’s Eliot visiting me in the hospital… he even wore his best tie for me:)
(Also, keep your eyes peeled for the sketch Amanda and I started dreaming up at one of my treatments called “A Cancer Carol”, in which the Jacob Marley character visits me from the past, weighed down in all the bullshit jewelry, meaningless quotes and pink ribbons that women use to get thru; and hey, WHATEVER you need to get thru; I’m not judging, I’m just resistant, which is why, after Amanda’s visit, she sent me these:
– exact replicas of one a sweet woman we spoke to in the “chemo lounge chair room” wore, who told me to “be strong”. I said, “How do you do that?”, and she pointed to her “strong” bracelet and proceeded to tell us the tale of how her friend who made them was a magician or something like that? Do you remember, Amanda? All I know is that I have similar lore around things like Feng Shui and the occasional shard of Rosequartz, but for some reason all of this crap did not resonate with me during my “cancer phase” because of my anger and resistance and the pettiness and emptiness I associate with quotes like, “Make the decision to THRIVE and believe in the power within you!” – accompanied by a photo of a too-perfect midwestern housewife with one of those smiles that’s so big she has crazy eyes…
I also want to give a huge shout-out to David Tichauer who had practically just started dating me when this all started, and instead of running in the other direction, he left me weird notes at the hospital while I was sleeping and helped me name this awesome gifty from Amanda: Colon Pillow, Secretary of Sleep:
David’s notes are my very favorite (I think he left this by a note from mom?): P.S. This is what his brain looks like. P.P.S.S. His phone is NEVER “working” even tho there is an Apple store on every corner, if not a deli where you can buy a $10 charger. Also because he refuses to acknowledge that cases exist and would rather look at a phone that is cracked in 5 million places until it totally goes kaput. All of this is only slightly frustrating and mostly very endearing to me.
I’m, also, so grateful to my “42 Seconds Of Happiness” cast and crew, who I told via e-mail recently and they all wrote back showering me with amazing words and stories. I knew they were amazing people and that’s why I chose to tell the first group who might actually have a say in my career my “news” because I loved and trusted them. They did not disappoint. In fact, they sent me deep, caring notes; some even sharing the struggles that their own family members had been thru.
FINALLY, there are too many friends to name who showered me with FreshDirect gift certificates, texts and visits, but I want to give a special shout-out to those who have “made it” big time and have not forgotten the “little people” (i.e. me). I can’t TELL you how many people, over my career I have hooked up with my agent or understudied with who move on to stardom and pretended like their “humble beginnings” had been erased from their memories, but Stephanie Beatriz is one of the classiest acts I know. In our alumni newsletter, she thanked me and Laurie for helping her start her career, and I feel like that NEVER happens. I cannot tell you how much it meant to and what an incredible sign of integrity and character that that amazing woman carries with her in everything she does. She, also, took time out of her busy shooting schedule when she was in New York to visit me and go outside and run thru sprinklers with me after a weekend of vomiting. It lifted my spirits profoundly. Morgan Weed, who I could not be prouder of, had me over and our budding friendship blossomed as she showed me that she is one of the most empathetic caring people I have ever met. Annaleigh Ashford, between pregnancy and shooting and lord knows what else continued to send me gifties and check in. These ladies are the “real deal”. I am so grateful to know them. I hope I can be like them when I grow up. Oh, and don’t forget these two! :
– and SOOO many more that I hope to thank and hug individually soon. I would love to thank them all here, because – TRULY every act and word meant the world to me, but I’ll probably brain fart and leave someone terribly important out and feel horrible, but I’ll just say I didn’t know I was capable of receiving this kind of love from my amazing, wonderful, CARING, HUGE-HEARTED friends.
I have butt-cancer (or had? I shall find out soon enough…), so at least it’s the funniest kind. And if you’ve gotten this far (or had to get this far cause you were mentioned 8 paragraphs down); THANK YOU for taking the time to read it. Since I have kept it secret for so long, I am now addicted to telling people (amirite, Tim Rosser???) so if you have any relatives somewhere without internet and think I should pay them a visit to talk to them about it, pm me.
TO GOOD GUYS!!
P.S. A few more visuals…
My surgery, as artistically interpreted by yours truly:
My sister’s interpretation of some e-mails from my ever sunshiny mom whilst I was in the hospital (this was a very special version – just for us – inspired by a series she does on Funny Or Die that I convinced her to make public):
Mom (she made me take pictures everywhere… and she was enamored by this outfit.):
Dad (we mostly watched TV but sometimes – ONCE A DAY, TOPS; DON’T GET CRAZY – we would do an activity):
Sis (she made me take pix at every treatment; WAB)… hmmm… I can’t find any pix of us TOGETHER at my treatment (she’s controlling about her image, so I’ll just show you these colon cookies from my mom instead):
Me, Laurie and David at my second to last treatment (I can tell this is not the last bc they couldn’t find a good vein in my arm at the last one so they put it in my right hand and sweet David had to come zip pants up ever time I went to the bathroom (which is always a lot) because when the neuropathy starts to set in and my hand would go all seizy-uppy on me). Oh… I guess we can tell it’s the second to last because Laurie is holding up one finger:
THANKS FOR READING. I LOVE YOU. THE END.