The tension in the air is palpable. I can hear my own heart beat in my chest and feel the pulse in the tips of my fingers. I’m barely breathing. Or am I breathing too heavily? I’m sitting there in my dress covered in silver rhinestones, or sometimes it’s a teal green ball gown or a red duchess satin hip hugging number. I can feel the blood rushing out of my head as they read my name. A chance. A possibility. And then it happens. “And the Oscar (and Tony) go to…” They open the envelope slowly. They read to themselves. Pause. Look up at the camera. I hear my name. I’m in disbelief but know I deserve it but pretend to be in utter disbelief! I walk up to the stage, crying, unable to speak. The audience stands in applause. I place my hand over my heart and bow.
I imagined it so many times growing up. For a long time my dream was to be on the stage and screen. But the life it took to even get a taste of success was not for me. I still love to perform and feel that I do every day in my work as a teaching artist. I still yearn to get on stage and hope to do it again soon but, I think I have played my greatest role to date; an “everything’s fine” cancer patient.
For much of my treatment, I felt like I was putting on an act. I had to pretend all of the time, not just for myself, but for others. At least I felt like I had to. Here are all the roles I played in the last year and here is why I think I deserve a beautiful gold statue for that role.
Role: Carrie the Brave
Character Description: In this role, the main protagonist, Carrie, who has breast cancer, must appear brave and steadfast to all the people who approach her. In order to calm their fears and ease their sadness, she must calmly be able to look them in the eye, place a firm hand on their shoulder and reassuringly convince them that all will be well. That cancer has messed with the wrong bitch. She must do all of this although deep inside, she is as scared as she’s ever been in her life. But to ease everyone else’s concerns is to ease her own.
Carrie the Energized
Character Description: In this role, the main protagonist, Carrie, who has breast cancer must appear like she has boundless energy to all of her employers and coworkers. She fears that she will lose work and financial security so, despite feeling like utter hell, she acts as if chemotherapy and radiation have no effect on her. She plays this role brilliantly.
Carrie the Optimist
Character Description: In this role, the main protagonist, Carrie, who has breast cancer, must go to all of her oncology appointments, chemotherapy sessions and all other doctor’s appointments with a smile on her face, jokes in her back pocket and a positive outlook on life. She must do this so that doctors and nurses don’t see her falling apart and literally splitting at the seams and don’t send her to a psychiatrist which she doesn’t have any goddamn time for because she must also play Carrie the Energized (see above).
Carrie the Tough Bitch
Character Description: In this role, the main protagonist, Carrie, who has breast cancer, must be unflinching in the face of a needle, a scalpel, a mammogram machine, a MRI machine. She must pretend that she doesn’t fear all things medical, pretend that she doesn’t hate the smell of hospitals, detest the look of tubes and saline bags. She must dig deep into her soul to not let the pain that these instruments deliver win. She must be a total badass, a tough bitch.
In this last year, I feel like I’ve spent so much time lying or fooling others and myself. But I played my roles well and one thing you learn in theater school is that acting is based on truth. In each role, if I’m being honest with myself, I found the truth within myself in order to play my character well. There have been times where I felt brave and truly believed that all could turn out alright for me in the end. I have found the energy that the love for my work provides me. I’m so lucky to do what I love and it has provided a daily escape from my reality. I have been optimistic that everything I have endured would not only work but ensured that I would be able to see my son grow up and get married. And I am a tough bitch. Anyone who has to deal with illness, all of my breast cancer sisters (and brothers) who endure treatment every day are tough bitches. Because we have to be. We have no other choice.
I continue to play my roles every day because, even though my cancer is gone and treatment is pretty much over, this experience and the trauma that it has left me with continue.
Did you feel like you had to (or do) play a role? What roles do you play?