Tough Titty

Magic Theatre presents….
Oni Faida Lampley
Directed by Robert O’Hara
Until February 22, 2009
Magic’s Northside Theatre
Building D Fort Mason
San Francisco
Tickets and information
415 441 8822

There is no disease more cruel than breast cancer. Its treatments destroy your body, your sense of self and life as you once knew it. My mother died of it when she was 77. She battled the disease for 6 years enduring pain as vicious as childbirth, worse because it didn’t end, disfigurement and chemo-therapy that felt like the death it was supposed to prevent. My mother was a woman who had once been strong, prideful and in charge of us all. She commanded; we obeyed. When she was seventy years old, she discovered that dreaded lump every woman fears…the one that was malignant. Her breast was removed, an implant inserted under her arm and her life was reduced to a series of tests, painful procedures and unending medications that nauseated her, destroyed her memory and reduced her to total dependence on strangers in starched uniforms, people who did a job, and returned to their families without thought of my mother and her need to survive. That house-proud woman, who dressed like a model from Vogue, cooked like Julia Childs wished she could, entertained with more style than a professional caterer and never lost control of her world and all of us in it, was transformed into a piece of meat probed, prodded and mutilated. My father allowed all this to happen because he believed those procedures would make her whole again.
As I sat by her bedside and realized that this emaciated piece of flesh had once been my mother, I wondered if the six years of treatment she had endured, the round-the-clock care and the grief that destroyed those who watched her fade away had been worth it. Would she not have been better succumbing to the cancer and letting it take her to the heaven she believed in six years ago ?
The year after my mother died, I met a woman named Karina who was 38 years old. She had been fighting cancer since her only daughter was born 6 years ago and she wrote a book describing her fury at the fate that prevented her from seeing her child grow into a woman with a family of her own. I heard her rage at her husband because he no longer found her desirable. I listened to her anger at the technicians who treated her with no consideration for her pain or her humanity and the doctors who made inaccurate careless decisions to mutilate her further without any sense of what they had destroyed. I saw her go to unbelievable lengths to find a cure for this growth inside her that nothing could abate. She fought for life with every muscle, every nerve, and every resource she could find. In the end, when she knew it was hopeless, she went through her library and put notes to her daughter in all the books she loved so that her little girl would know the ideas her that had inspired a mother she would never know. I remember marveling at the energy this dying woman mustered to fight a battle she always knew she’d lose.
When I saw TOUGH TITTY at the Magic Theater, I did not see Angela (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) I saw my mother screaming at the doctors and railing at my father. I saw Karina hating her husband because he would see their baby grow up and she would not. I heard all the women I knew who despised the treatments, the agony of chemo-therapy and yet endured it all for a hope they knew was in vain.
The story we see on the Magic Theatre stage is a real one. It will make you question who has a right to make decisions about your own life. I cannot help but feel that we each need to own our existence and choose how we want it to play out. I cannot help but feel that accepting our own mortality is as healing as fighting a disease when the fight is more miserable that the death it will bring.
I still see Karina traveling to Hawaii for what she thought was a miracle cure. I still see my father bending over what once was the woman he loved, weeping because she was so drugged she didn’t recognize him. And I see Angela on stage, angry at her husband for being alive, hating her “medical team” and I understand.
I cannot recommend this production enough. It is a must see for every human being who faces such a decision when his body fails him. Each of us must ask ourselves, “How much do I want this life of mine, if I cannot be in charge of how it is lived? How valuable am I to myself that I cannot let go of breathing and a heartbeat that no longer obeys my soul. How important is it to exist when life is not longer an option?”
TOUGH TITTY continues until the end of the month. Once you see it, it will linger in your mind until you are no longer here. It forces each and every one of us to access how much we value life and what it must contain for us to want to save it.

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