Death is scary. There is no other way to put it. It is. Even thought it is going to happen to all of us. And even though we “know” everyone we love will proceed or follow us, still death is scary. I know this. I do.
When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 I was stunned. “My mom? Cancer?” It seemed inconceivable. My mom was strong and funny. Brave and resilient. Cancer? But we quickly learned that cancer doesn’t care who you are. Or what you are. Cancer is a non-discriminatory disease. My mom had a lumpectomy and then began chemotherapy treatment, which was to be followed by radiation. We rallied the troops. My mom’s friends all came out in full force to help. Rides to chemotherapy, trips to the doctor, meals made-they were all quickly taken care of. Although my mom had some side effects from her treatment…all in all, looking back, it wasn’t so bad. We thought we were done with this cancer business. But life, as they say, has a way of doing its own thing. And so does cancer.
In 2010 my mom’s cancer returned. This time the breast cancer had metastasized to her lungs. I remember her doctor, an amazing and loving man telling us, “This is NOT a death sentence. This is a chronic condition that we can treat.” We felt relief. And once again, we got to work. I decided that I would commit to being my mother’s primary in home caregiver. I was working full time as a therapist at a social service agency but I knew when I wasn’t there I would be with my mom. I needed that. Maybe somewhere inside I knew this wasn’t going to be like the last time. This time it was going to be a different story.
Six months after the cancer was discovered in my mom’s lungs it spread to her bones. Still we thought, “This can be treated. We can handle this.” I took her to chemo to treat her lungs and then we would check into the radiation center to try and slow the lesions from growing in her bones. But then, shortly after her bones were showing cancer spots… the cancer spread to my mother’s brain. We tried to remain optimistic. I put in even more hours caring for my mother as her symptoms worsened. She was now in some pain. Her bones hurt and she was having frequent headaches. I knew…my mother was dying.
I was so sad, afraid and desperate. I didn’t know what to do with myself in the moments in between treatments and the hands on caring for my mother. She was sleeping more frequently and while she was asleep I found myself in a panic. One day, when I could take the anxiety no longer…I began to write. I didn’t know what I was writing but I just put pen to paper and began.
Thus, my solo show, WHY NOT ME…Love, Cancer and Jack White was born. The show is a love letter to my mom, a reminder that dreams are essential and a journey about what it means to “come home.” Oh…and it’s a comedy. What? A comedy about cancer? Yes. Because here’s the thing…life doesn’t stop being hilarious even though sad things are happening all around us. It doesn’t. I promise. During my mom’s last days yes, we cried a lot. But we also laughed. We laughed at the absurdity of life as well as the everyday things we found funny. WHY NOT ME gives permission for an audience to laugh even when witnessing something that can be very triggering. We all need levity; we all need a release. I hope WHY NOT ME…Love, Cancer and Jack White can serve as a sort of balm for the harshness that life throws at us.
Today is the 5th anniversary of my mother’s death. And I miss her very much. AND, I am also so grateful for all of the wonderful things that have transpired since she has left us. And one of those things is being able to share WHY NOT ME with you at Catalyst Ranch on December 3 and December 4. I can’t wait to be in a room with you and spend some time being together and connecting. Nothing would make me happier. And I promise…even though the show involves a lot of death, we’re gonna be fine. You and me…we gonna be all right.
Jen Bosworth is an actress, writer, and coach from Evanston. Her one-woman show has enjoyed two successful runs in Chicago and was the 2013 breakout hit of the New York International Fringe Festival. Jen is currently working on a screenplay and has a coaching practice where she focuses on helping other artists live grounded and successful lives.