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Articles about Leah – Scene of their recovery

Cancer survivors bring Bosom Buddies show to scene of their recovery
by Gary Dutton
Contributing writer
Published May 5, 2005

LEBANON – It will be more personal this time, more introspective for the Bosom
Buddies as they speak of their own battles with breast cancer in the building where they were first diagnosed, where they individually underwent mastectomies to save their lives, and from where they finally walked out the door as survivors.

Betsy Duany had never met Renee Russell until they each answered an ad asking breast cancer survivors to share their stories with Leah Carey last year. None of the original eight “buddies” knew each other, in fact, although they all shared a very profound medical history. Each of the eight is a breast cancer survivor.

And it was through that common denominator dealt them by fate that they became the “Bosom Buddies”. Working with the drama creator Carey and with writing coach Jodi Picoult, the eight quickly formed a bond unlike other theatre relationships.

As the “buddies,” they laughed together and cried together. Their new relationships strengthened what they already knew, that the story they shared was far from unique, that breast cancer attacks no particular age group, that its victims fit no socio-economic stereotype.

It could, they knew, strike any woman at any time her life but, if treated promptly and with all that medical science could throw at it, breast cancer was survivable. Their mission, the eight knew, was to spread that message to anyone who would listen.

And to that end, the Buddies did just that, watching their own words and emotions become transformed into scripts, they told their stories with tear-filled eyes. They held each other’s hands as they spoke of their individual pain and listened to one another tell a tale that mirrored their own.

And while they made it through their first few “Bosom Buddies” performances with flying colors last fall, both Duany and Russell say that those opening night emotions they felt last year at the Bernice A. Ray School in Hanover will pale in comparison to those they’re expecting later this month when they perform the play at DHMC during the medical facility’s observance of Cancer Survivors’ Day.

Duany, 35, is from Plainfield. She is the youngest of the Buddies and a nine-year survivor of breast cancer. She was only 26 when diagnosed, so young her doctor thought her cancer was a misdiagnosis.

Russell lives in North Thetford. At 53, she’s a two-year cancer survivor. While she was a more typical candidate to contract the dreaded disease, she was no more surprised than Duany when confronted with the big news at DHMC.

But while each was told by her doctor that the news wasn’t good, neither even remotely considered that proclamation to be a death sentence. They recall, in fact, that the option of dying wasn’t even something they considered.

“It never crossed my mind,” Russell says of the possibility that she, like thousands of
American women annually, might die as a result of her cancer. “I never thought for one second that I’d lose my life.”

Ditto for the youthful Duany. She, in fact, didn’t let the terrifying diagnosis alter the plans she and her husband Patrick had made for their lives, not one little bit.

Betsy was going to have children come hell or high water, come good health or breast cancer. Her mastectomy and chemotherapy notwithstanding, her reconstructive surgery and recovery once out of the way, she was going to have children. Case closed.

“I always knew I’d get cancer,” Duany says, matter-of-factly. “I just didn’t know what kind.” And when her diagnosis was finally confirmed – her cancer was originally thought to be only a harmless cyst – it was an alarming one. Of her 23 lymph nodes, 14 contained cancer. Still, she says, “I knew I was going to live and have children.”

She rejected a recommendation of stem cell therapy because, she says, statistics revealed that only one percent of women treated with that method go on to bare children. Hers was a two- fold mission: to eradicate her cancer and, that out of the way, to go about her life and start a family.

Rejecting stem cell treatment Duany, like Russell four years later, opted for a still-experimental drug named Taxol. It was a choice both lived to celebrate.

Russell is still cancer-free. She works five days a week, as she did throughout most of her therapy, and lives in the quiet village of North Thetford with her husband Dan, 14-year-old daughter Jennie, and an eighth-grade student at Thetford Academy, and her youngest son, Joseph, 21, who’s home for the summer from his studies at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York.

She has three older children and two grandchildren. She plans on having many more.

Duany was employed as the production manager at WNNE-TV when her tribulations began. Her cancer gave her a reason to leave the workforce, something she’d planned to do anyway to start a family.

She and her husband Patrick spend lots of time today with daughter Alli, who’ll be 5 in July, and son Andrew, 2. They are, Duany lets you know in no uncertain terms, what life is all about.

Her daily regimen revolves so tightly around her family life, indeed, that Duany is one of the two original Buddies to leave the eight-member cast after its initial run at the Ray School last September. “I didn’t want to go on the road, even as much as I believed in what we were doing,” she recalls, “because I didn’t want to spend that time away from my children.”

But the May 22 DHMC performance is special, Duany says. The Norris Cotton Cancer Center, she recalls, “was where I changed from a number back into a person.” It’s a place she feels strongly indebted to.
Performing “Bosom Buddies” on Cancer Survivors’ Day, she says, “is almost a complete circle,” a sentiment of which Russell readily agrees.

I can go back (to DHMC) and do something for other people so maybe they’ll be less afraid,” Duany says of the role she sees herself fulfilling there. Like Russell, she says, it’s a small way she can give something back.

Russell, who’s remained with the touring Buddies cast, is looking forward to the DHMC performance that will reunite the original eight Buddies. “The show just has more meaning, more substance, with eight voices,” she says, “I can hardly wait.”

“Bosom Buddies” is reality theater at its best. Its DHMC performance is set for May 22 and is open to the public. Call Marianne Barthel at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center for more information.

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