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Tag Archives: Breast Cancer

The Pink IS the Pony

Our playwright Andrea Lepcio begins “Looking for the Pony” with this parable:

“There once were two children who could see the bright side of any situation. One day, they are put in a room filled with manure. Hours later they are discovered laughing, scooping up the manure, digging underneath. “What on earth are you doing,” the children are asked. With beaming smiles they answer, “All this poop, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”

“Looking for the Pony” is a beautiful piece of work.  Tight.  Great cast.  Great director.  One of the central figures is battling terminal breast cancer.

As producer I get to really get out of the room and promote this.  But, how?  I thought it would be easy.  I mean it is breast cancer awareness month.  Some people are really upset about this.  People like Fran Visco and Barbara Ehrenreich.  Maybe it’s all too easy.  Buying pink.  Pink kitchen acoutrements.  Pink snacks.  Ref’s with pink whistles.

Pink.

What does it invoke?  Pepto Bismol.  If something is upsetting just have a little pink and everything’s gonna be just fine.  Pink.  The Panther.  That’s fun.  Pink.  Princess.  The extreme epidemic that I like to refer to as EPS (Eternal Princess Syndrome) plagues our society.  It fuels the yacht’s of plastic surgeons and keeps the gut sucking pantie industry in the black.  It robs our entire culture of the wisdom that comes with women who have LIVED and earned the lines to prove it.

But, what if it never happened?  The pink.  Would we be having the discussions at all?

For example, if Eve Ensler didn’t get the country saying the word “vagina” outloud, would it ever be a topic of conversation?  The downside in running a woman’s theatre is the perception that if you have a vagina, say you have a vagina, and stand in any sort of pool of light while both having and promoting your vagina, the “woman’s theatre” box is ticked off the theatre list.  This is an extended contract covering a 57 mile radius of said pool of light for the next 15 months, at least.  So, I’m kind of sunk over here trying to produce plays featuring women.  Why do that when people are chanting “vagina” on college campus’ to the North and the South?  You see my dilemma?

So, if I buy a pink spatula am I checking off the “cancer” box?  If my snack food is in a pink bag have I negated the real and necessary cancer research in a 57 mile radius for the following 15 months?  If so.  I’m am a terrible criminal.  AWFUL!

And, who is the pink accountant anyway?  Where is this money really going?  Is there accountability or is this just a marketing spin to sell more product?  We need answers.  Lots and lots of answers.  But with the plague of EPS running rampant the only people asking the questions seem to be personified as evil forces before they can even make their arguments.

I begin to think that the ribbon movements are maybe starting points for rituals and conversations that don’t yet exist.  Symbolic doorways sponsored by JoAnn’s Fabrics with floral arrangements and stringed quartets welcoming us.  Waiters in bow ties and tuxedo shirts offer us canopay’s off of silver platters.  Somewhere Oprah is laughing and arranging for a lovely boat ride so that everyone might enjoy the vibrant sunset and waterfall spray of ribbon-island.

Nice.  Delusional.  But, very nice.

And, what about the other diseases that are under-researched because women’s health issues continue to be neglected?

There’s Mary Fischer who was the first woman diagnosed with AIDS and had to be a guinea pig when it came to prescription dosages.  No research.  No research on women, forget about menopausal women.  They almost killed her with the meds.

Or Gilda Radner.  She kept going to the Dr. and telling them that she wasn’t feeling right and they kept telling her she was depressed and giving her anti-depressants.  (By the way, how many women are on anti-depressants, and why isn’t THAT being addressed?)  By the time Gilda was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the tumor was the size of a grapefruit.  Even then she tried positive visualizations and energy work.  And, out of that grew Gilda’s Club.

Is that less valuable than S.H.A.R.E., because it doesn’t have its own ribbon?  Or is it more important because it was started by a celebrity?  How do we break all of this down?

I chose this play because it’s a great play!  That’s the truth.

But, what does this topic mean to me personally?

A lot, actually.

Cancer first affected me when I was five years old.  My Mom was divorcing my Dad and we stayed with her best friend and her best friends son.  His name was Jimmy.  He was four.  We were bathed together, fed together.  We each took one of his Grandfather’s knees on every Peanuts holiday special.  We fought.  We cursed like sailors.  He played with trucks in the mud.  I got to go off to kindergarten.  He got to stay in his pajama’s all day and watch cartoons.  He got to sit on the countertops.  People were always holding him.  He was so special.

He died.

Cancer.

I’ve written him into many of my plays.  This was 1971.  There was no such thing as grief counseling.  He was just gone.  When I asked my Dad where he went he told me that God needed him in heaven.  I set all of that to the tune of the Jefferson’s theme song at some point and thought he was in a de-luxe apartment in the sky with a dry cleaning landlord named God.

That was leukemia.  I lived.  He didn’t.

Life.

It’s here, until it’s not.

Then came breast cancer.  First my Aunt Lorraine.  She’s the only Sunday School teacher I’ve ever had.  A kind and gentle soul.  Beautiful woman.  Just always there.  My Stepfathers Aunt.  Lentil Soup.  Conversations in Greek that I didn’t understand.  Incense in a Greek church that almost made me hurl but kept me completely fixated and focused somehow.  A husband who loved her and built a church with his bare hands.  One time when I was 7 he quickly opened the front door of his home when I knocked and yanked a loose tooth out of my mouth before I knew what had happened, then he shut the door and pretended nothing had happened.  Funny man.  Fairly conservative, very religious, always smiling.  Colorful people.  Loving people.  Good people.

There was the Christmas when Aunt Lorraine was near the end.  They kept her in a small room by herself with lots of tubes and such.  She no longer talked.  She seemed barely conscious, if at all.  Beeping sounds.  The lentil soup was not the same.  The baklava went stale.  She was gone.

She died.

Cancer.

Then, there was Mrs. Paton.  She was the Mother of my best friend in High School.  Another kind and giving soul.  She’d take us to the mall for hours and hours.  When we talked about Soap Opera characters and love affairs she’d blush and gently reprimand the zestiness of it all over McDonald’s sundaes.  The woman had saintly patience and drove a little bit like Penelope Pitstop.  She was Scottish and would get dressed up with her husband on special occasions to go out dancing.  She had immaculate appearance.  They both did.  They built a pub inside of their house.  It was 1984.

High School graduation.  Mrs. Paton waited in an air conditioned car.  By now the cancer had spread into her lungs.  But, we didn’t know that.  She didn’t want us to.  She walked to the fence at the “P’s” so she could watch her daughter walk the stage at her graduation and receive her diploma.  Then, she stayed there in the heat.  And, she waited for the “R’s”.  And, she watched me too.  And, I won’t ever forget that.

We went off to Sr. week at the beach.  Even though Mrs. Paton’s daughter, my BFF-before texting, offered to stay with her if she was feeling bad.  She insisted we go and have a good time.

We did.

When we came back she was only with us for a few more days.  She was having a lot of trouble breathing.  I remember watching her lying there on her bed and she had something to tell me.  It was labored and I leaned in.  And she asked that I watch out for her daughter.  I said, of course I would and I told her that everything was going to be fine.

I believe it was a Wednesday night.  I was sleeping over and Mrs. Paton had gone to the hospital.  Mr. Paton came back and called both of his children into a separate room to tell them their Mother had passed.  Just like that.

She died.

Cancer.

Life.

It’s here, until it’s not.

I’ve never worn pink for either of them.  Instead, I think I took the high road on occasions when I could have done things that would have gotten me into a lot of trouble.  Because, I got to know them and out of respect for their time here on earth, I decided to honor mine too.  If I threw it all away, it would somehow dishonor them.  And, believe me, there have been moments in my younger life where I would have easily thrown it all away.  But, I get to be here.  I have to make that count somehow.

Because I’ll tell you something about all three of those people.  If they were here now, they would be laughing.  There’s no doubt in my mind about that.

I think that Andrea has written an incredible piece of theatre.  And, on a personal level I am SO GRATEFUL that she has given me this opportunity to produce it.  To celebrate and honor them.

Because cancer kills.

It’s no joke.

I don’t care what crayon anyone uses to color it.

I guess my primary goal is to give as many people as I possibly can the experience of this play.  Carnation pink is just fine with me when it comes to this.

Why?  Why not launch off of marketing that’s already been done?  I think I’m okay with that in this instance.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know I’m not on an Oprah boat offshore of ribbon island.

This play is brilliant.  And, the goal is to get people to see THAT.  I don’t know how Andrea has done it but she has captured the spirit of the person-cancer aside.  She has captured that nurturing soul that seems too good for this world, almost.  The aspect of spirit that has kept me from checking out, Andrea has captured that midflight.  She feels real.  SO REAL.  So true.  So honest.

I miss them.  All of them.  And I thank Andrea for giving me a glimpse of them again.  For letting me feel that spirit breath in a room, if only for an hour or so.  Amazing.  For giving us permission to laugh, and to love, and to cry.  Because many of us think to be strong is to stifle all of that.  And, they deserve remembering.  And okay, celebrating.  Not the disease.  But, the people.

If I had never met these three people I, quite honestly, would be a darker person if I were still here at all.  I know that sounds crazy.  But, they showed me heart.  They gave me play.  They gave me trust.  And, they gave me a lifetime supply of love without even trying.  And, I wouldn’t trade knowing them-even if it means experiencing losing them-ever.

Not ever.

We need to be talking about this so that it is completely out of the shadows and into the light.  We need accountability in the health care industry.

Women are not disposable.

Coffins don’t come in pink.

Having said all of that, I have an incredible play to produce.  By any means necessary.