Lana Schwarcz says she hates the concept of the “cancer journey”. After all, she wasn't going anywhere, and there was no chance of leaving the breast cancer behind. Nevertheless, she acknowledges the irony of cancer providing a good story and comedic material for her show, Lovely Lady Lump.
Familiar narrative elements resonate with anyone who has experience of cancer: the way medical professionals communicate “good news and bad news”; inappropriate songs in the MRI scanner (Queen’s “Who wants to live forever”, anyone?); tests and treatments that strip privacy and intimacy from your body. A recurring motif in Schwarcz’s show is when she stands topless, arms above her head, in position for radiotherapy, and tells the hospital staff jokes. As she tells us, by now she is entirely comfortable baring her breasts in front of strangers.
Schwarcz begins by asking the audience to raise their hands if they have cancer or have survived it, or if they know someone who has. As well as letting her gauge who she is performing for, it allows even someone with little or no knowledge of cancer to see that there are others here who do share these experiences. It brings the audience together, shifting our different perspectives towards each other. Theorist Victor Turner called such a collective state "communitas" - there is a shared understanding, which means we are here not to discover a new story but to collectively bear witness to another person who has lived through it. By the end of the show, Schwarcz rediscovers the journey metaphor and decides to own it. An important part of her journey, it seems, was accepting that she was on one. (MR)
Lovely Lady Lump is on at 16.00 at Gilded Balloon Teviot until August 29th (not 15th). Wheelchair Access, Level Access, Wheelchair Accessible Toilets - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/lovely-lady-lump
Narrative medicine is an emerging field of research that recognises the significance of the stories people tell about their own illnesses: http://sps.columbia.edu/narrative-medicine
Here is an interesting discussion of cancer, rites and communitas: http://bulletin.hds.harvard.edu/articles/winterspring2013/cancer-rites-and-remission-society
Elena Semino, professor of linguistics and verbal art, discussing her research into journey and battle metaphors in cancer: http://theconversation.com/whether-you-battle-cancer-or-experience-a-journey-is-an-individual-choice-39142