Life on the fringe

Winnipeg’s Fringe Theatre Festival is wrapping up and cancer is a big hit here. One play is called This Is Cancer, a funny personification of the disease by a Toronto actor. I saw it three years ago.

This year, I took in Expiration Date, by Minnesota’s Candy Simmons. She plays Lucille Barker, a young woman who learns she has late stage cancer and mere months to live. Simmons based her play on interviews with several terminally ill patients.

I was struck by how one disease produces so many different experiences. Simmons’ character wrestles with several issues I have not yet had to face, and likely won’t. She initially keeps her grim prognosis to herself, and struggles to tell her brother. In my case, I told everyone, right away. I’m a sharer. I told cashiers at drive-thru windows.

Lucille contemplates whether she should try chemo; I never pondered this for a minute. I’ve got a boy to raise. She worries she hasn’t experienced enough living. I am older, I’ve travelled, and I’ve had lots of adventures. Not seeing Bali isn’t a big regret. On the other hand, my fear of not seeing Will grow up is overwhelming.

In the funniest scene, Lucille encounters a flustered funeral director while planning her own send-off. It made me wonder if I’m foolish for not making any such plans yet (other than pondering the set list, and so far settling on the Theme From Shaft).

I have spent three years “getting ready” and yet I found little common ground between my experience and Lucille’s (this is not a criticism; it’s a good production).

Despite many shared moments amongst cancer patients, the larger journey is unique. There aren’t five stages of grief, there are five hundred.

We cancerous folk begin in the same place, usually a doctor’s office. Sadly, we often end up in the same place too. The route between those points is variable; it traverses a wide, wild country with back roads and unmarked trails.

 Candy Simmons’ Expiration Date moves to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival, Aug. 14-24. 

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