“Are you there, Judy? It’s me Cancer.” I love this take on the classic 1970′s book, “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.” How did you come up with your show title?
My girlfriends co-worker actually came up with “Are you there, Cancer. It’s me Judy” We decided that the other way around, “Are you there, Judy? It’s me Cancer” was stronger because in reality Cancer came looking for me.
I cried at the opening slideshow. Thanks for ruining a particularly awesome makeup night. You mentioned a friend at the end of the slideshow. If you feel comfortable doing so, please tell me about her and her significance in the creation of that piece.
My friend Keeley passed away just a few weeks before the original run of my show opened. I have had this slide show in mind since I was diagnosed. Even down to the song that I wanted it to go along with. The last time I saw Keeley in the hospital was three days before she died. Even then she was asking me all about the show. She said she was tired and was going to close her eyes but told me to keep talking about the show and to tell her all of the details. Her death made me question why I was doing this show. I suddenly felt like I was selfish for wanting to get my story out when people I knew were not surviving this stupid disease. I had survivors guilt. I wanted to cancel the show but knew it was too late. A few days passed and I realized that I was no longer doing this show for me, that I was doing the show for Keeley.
I recognized the choreography at the top of the show and was delighted to see you had collaborated with Atalee Judy of Breakbone Dance Company. She’s rad. What inspired this co-creation? Would you please walk me through your process?
I love Atalee Judy! I have been a huge fan of hers for at least ten years. I love the work her company does and I think she is very talented. I have always wanted to work with her but it didn’t seem to fit in with the other acting I was doing (Gay and Lesbian Sketch Comedy and besides, I am not a dancer). When I was diagnosed, I wrote in my journal constantly and listened to my ipod as well. The song Sabotage really spoke to me. I would listen to that song over and over and get mad at the Cancer and felt like the Cancer Sabotaged me. It was while I was journaling that I day dreamed about Atalee Choreographing a movement piece for me to this song. I reached out to her about my idea and she said yes! She worked with me for several weeks and was very kind and supportive (especially since I have no dance training).
The multidisciplinary nature of the show (video, dance, songs) allowed for audience engagement on a number of levels. What prompted the exploration of your piece through these various forms?
I think having sketch comedy experience helped me with these forms. As I was writing I saw my ideas through sketches or video shorts. It is hard to explain but it all came to me while I was recovering either from my mastectomy or Chemo. I saw my experience as little pieces that were funny or pieces that pissed me off or made me sad.
Please, in vivid detail, describe your deep, unwavering love for broccoli.
I have always hated broccoli but I always had a few pieces if I was at a salad bar or Flat Top Grill or here and there for “good luck” to prevent cancer. After I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer I got really angry at broccoli because I ate it even when I hated it and it still didn’t stop me from getting cancer! I would get so worked up when I saw broccoli that after a while, it would make me laugh about how mad I would get. I just knew that I had to write about my anger toward broccoli.
The “Lesbian, or Cancer?” game was hilarious. I loved that little gal (was her name Betty?) who came up and played at the show I attended. Tell me about how you created that section as a part of the show as an interactive experience, particularly if there have been any times where it went really well, or terribly, terribly wrong.
The Lesbian or Cancer game was my director’s idea. I sent her the monologue that leads into the game about Lesbians and women with Cancer having short hair and getting them confused and she came back to me about having a game where you decide if the woman is a Lesbian or a Straight woman with Cancer. I think the night you saw the show was probably the toughest night as far as an audience member not being able to answer the questions. But I think it turned out great! The audience seemed to rally together to help this poor woman. I am waiting for the day where someone says that the woman in the picture could be a Lesbian with Cancer. But so far that hasn’t happened.
Cancer. Not a a traditionally hilarious topic. How do you balance the emotional impact of such an experience (and all that comes with it) with trying to maintain a lighthearted outlook, so much so that it results in a show that is both funny AND candid?
I think for me, in order to get through it I had to find the humor in it. I found that I was constantly thinking, “What if…” Or I found that I couldn’t believe what was going on so I had to comment on it to help get me through it. Like with the “socks” monologue, I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t wear my own socks and that I had to wear their hospital socks. I thought, “Seriously? You are going to remove my breast AND not let me be comfortable?”
I loved your post-surgery music video. The close ups of your fingers walking up the wall were particularly reflective of success in baby steps. How was it for you to show those struggles and what do you hope others can take from them? Also, I don’t blame you about the nurse… rowr. For realsies.
Thanks! My girlfriend played the part of the nurse. I think she is pretty cute, too! From this video I wanted people to know what was involved with having a mastectomy. It’s not just that your breast is removed, it’s also that you can’t move your arm for a few weeks and that you have to do exercises to regain full movement in your arm. I wanted people to know that I couldn’t tie my shoes because it hurt too much. My mom had to give me a sponge bath because I couldn’t move my arm. People had to help me change into a new shirt. I couldn’t open my pain medicine bottle. Sometimes I felt that people didn’t understand everything that went with a mastectomy (I have actually had someone ask me if the mastectomy hurt). I wanted people to understand but I didn’t want people to feel bad for me. I didn’t want to stand in front of people and whine about it.
Your Linda character was fantastic. I love her “bargains.” What inspired her? Also, I am disappointed I didn’t get to feel the fake breast. I’m suspicious about the claim that it is, indeed, “lifelike.” Only one way to find out…
Thank you. Linda came from a very sarcastic place. I have all of these items and either have used them or currently use them. Even three years later. With this piece I also wanted people to know that Breast Cancer was not just having my breast removed and then voila in two weeks it is over. I still have to wear a breast pad to make my breasts look symmetrical. I have to wear a compression sleeve when I work out or when I fly so that I don’t get Lympodema. I get a lot of strangers asking me about my sleeve. Once again, I wanted people to know everything you have to think about in order to feel normal during Chemo and after a mastectomy without people feeling bad for me. I didn’t want to sound preachy.
Yes or no- WOULD you consider giving me some eyeliner from the make-up kit you were gifted by the American Cancer Society after ruining mine with your awesome show? No pressure [unwavering glare].
Yes! You wear your make up way better than I do.
Nailed it! What has it been like for you to go through this experience with a 5 year old daughter? How does someone even begin to contextualize this experience for their child?
My daughter is what helped me get through Breast Cancer. I stayed with my parents for the majority of my recovery. I surrounded myself with pictures of my daughter so that when I wanted to give up and stop fighting all I had to do was look at her picture. On the flip side, I often felt that I was missing out on my daughter’s life. I couldn’t stand to be away from her but I knew she was so little (about 2 years old) that she wouldn’t understand why she couldn’t climb all over me or why I couldn’t pick her up or while I was on Chemo and so nauseous that I couldn’t be around her very long. She is such a smart girl, though. Even back then she would say that “Daphne helps Mommy feel better” and she would lift up my shirt and kiss my scar and hug me.
I found the milestone dates particularly heartbreaking. It’s a nice framework to ground the series of events that followed. Was it difficult to revisit each of them without creating sadness, and subsequently, with your audience?
Yes. It was difficult to revisit without creating sadness. I really didn’t like holidays because everything Cancer related happened to me right around or on a holiday. I think that is why it was important to me to end the song on a positive note. When I wrote the song I got a little choked up because I realized that I see my birthday differently ever since I was diagnosed. I truly celebrate being here for one more year.
What do you hope to accomplish with your show in the future?
I hope to take this show around the country and perform it or pieces of it for women going through treatment and survivors and women who fear they might get Breast Cancer and family members and friends of people who have gone through this. There has been nothing greater in this process than having women come up to me and thanking me for sharing my story. I feel like this is my gift to give the world. That is why I am here. That is why I went through my journey.
Where can we see it before it closes?
You can see, “Are you there, Judy? It’s me Cancer” at Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont) on Fridays at 8pm through August 31st. You can follow me on facebook. Just look up “Are you there, Judy? It’s me Cancer.”
For more info: http://www.stage773.com/Show?id=18