Cancer and the Performing Arts

Jennifer Butler

  • Massachusetts Columnist

For a long time, cancer was not something that you heard about very often. I don’t recall hearing about it or it being discussed when I was younger. Maybe it’s because I have grown up but I feel as though in the past ten years that word cancer really seems to have come to light. You hear more and more these days about people being diagnosed, people who never would have thought they would be the ones to hear “You have cancer.”  We all know that cancer doesn’t discriminate.  Any man, woman, or child could hear those words. Some are more at risk than others, but none the less, it seems all of us are vulnerable. 

More recently TV shows, songs, movies, books, and plays have brought cancer to light. TV shows such as “Chasing Life” and songs such as Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” and “Save You” by Simple Plan are just a few that were written about cancer. There are television specials and telethons for charities such as Stand Up To Cancer. There have also been plays where cancer is the subject matter; such as Margaret Edson’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning play “Wit.” 

So why, you may ask, am I writing about this?  Well, in the past five years my vengeance with cancer has become a bit more personal then I would like it to be. It was five years ago this week that my dance teacher, and friend, heard those evil words “You Have Cancer.”  She showed strength and resilience while going through treatment. She never stopped choreographing and teaching dance through it all. When she was too tired to come to class she joined us through video chat. She was determined to win the battle and that she did. Though she is still able to be with us and teach us tap dance, there are those who aren't so fortunate with their battles. Even more recently than that, two years ago my cousin Annmarie was diagnosed with cancer and I have heard from others who have had cancer and are just really starting to share their stories. 

October is breast cancer awareness month but cancer is something that is fought all year long.  We may not be in the medical field but there is so much we can all do to help aid the fight.  Every year since her diagnosis, Barbi, along with the rest of us who are her students and friends, participate in the Relay for Life to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. 

My point is that, cancer can affect anyone; family, friends, business people and even performers. I have seen a variety of people of different genders, races, and occupations get diagnosed and not let it slow them down. Being a performer, teacher, and choreographer can be a crazy, hectic life, even without being sick. But Barbi has shown my fellow dancers and me what true strength is and even though having cancer was not a battle she wanted to face, she did it with her head held high, all while teaching dance.  Her courage helped her continue the planning and performing in our studio’s annual recital.