Bosom Buddies coverage
Area women share their stories in writing and dramatization
by Gina Hamilton
Published Dec. 8, 2004
FRANCONIA – Leah Carey is making it possible for a group of breast cancer survivors to tell their unique stories in writing and drama. In collaboration with Hanover novelist Jodi Picoult, who has led the writing workshops, she has helped eight women prepare dramatic presentations from their stories.
The plays are being presented on Thursday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 11, at 7:30 PM at the Bernice A. Ray Elementary School in Hanover.
The project was conceived by Carey. She has worked in professional theatre since college graduation from Brandeis University in 1996. Recently she decided to come home to Franconia, where she grew up. “I was looking for a way to stay here and also support my chosen profession in theatre,” she said. “I want to be able to work with people to share their stories and also perform them for an audience.”
She contacted Picoult and the women found they both had an interest in working with breast cancer survivors. “It turns out that we both have this assumption that we’re going to have breast cancer. Jodi has a grandmother who is a survivor; I have a lot of family members with a history of cancer, but not breast cancer,” she said.
Carey added, “There are stories that need to be told. You hear a lot of technical information in the news about breast cancer and treatment, but very little personal information. The treatment [surgery, chemotherapy] is difficult and it’s an assault on a woman’s identity to face losing a breast.”
Carey emphasized that the 12-week workshop with the women has not been a support group. “We tended toward that sometimes, but neither Jodi nor I have any interest or background in running a support group,” she said. “We’re much more interested in looking forward, and we have to look back to see where we stand, look at the stories. And [look at] how this has changed who you are, where do you see yourself in 10 years,” she said.
Since Picoult lives in Hanover, the women have worked there on their writing projects. The participants range in age from the mid-30s to 60s. “One was diagnosed at age 26. She was told she’d never have children; now she has two children,” Carey said. One woman came a year after finishing her cancer treatment because she was not interested in joining a support group. She wanted to move on and was intrigued by the writing and dramatization project.
Picoult said, “I have been amazed by the power of these women’s stories. They have ‘bled’ for us every week, becoming remarkable writers and performers in the process, and producing work that is at turns heartbreaking, humbling, funny, and uplifting.”
She added, “I call my agent every week and brag to her about this most amazing group of women I’ve met in years. I am constantly stunned by what they write. They have been amazingly brave and honest. Leah and I have just been along for the ride!”
Carey called Picoult “a really amazing writing teacher” who helped the women to improve their writing. “She gave them suggestions on revisions. Then they gave me copies of everything they had written and I pulled pieces of each person’s writing and put the pieces into a script,” Carey explained.
In the plays, the focus is on themes such as fear or hope, and each woman participates with a narration.
“This is not a traditional play where people act scenes. Each of the women is telling her own story in her own words and we see the whole experience from various points of view,” Carey said. “We hear about the awful moment of waking up from a supposed biopsy and finding out they did a radical mastectomy under the same anesthesia [IMPORTANT NOTE: this story refers to an experience in the late 1980s, before needle biopsies, and this type of “surprise” procedure would NOT occur today] and we also hear about the joy realizing that your sense of womanhood does not have to be affected by losing a breast.”
She said having these women perform in front of an audience is to show other women there is hope, something to look forward to. “And for those that have not been touched by this, that it’s not necessarily a death sentence; it’s something you can come through,” Carey said.
Admission is free and donations will be taken at the door for cancer research.