The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer – A Review

Last week, we were kindly invited to go and see The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer at the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre. The play promised to ‘look beyond the poster campaigns and pink ribbons at the reality of cancer... with songs’. Needless to say, we were intrigued.


We particularly like the point raised at 56 secs in!

The play is narrated by its writer, Bryony Kimmings who, according to her website, ‘makes mind-blowing, multi-platform art works to provoke social changes, babes!’ She sounds like our kind of woman! We are all about social change. We ran a whole campaign - #HeadHigh - that challenged the social attitudes around lung cancer to quash the stigma people affected by lung cancer experience on a daily basis. We want people with lung cancer to feel supported, not judged. We want research and treatment to reflect the impact lung cancer has on so many people’s lives. So, we were keen to hear Ms Kimmings attempts to embark on change.

The play itself featured audio from interviews with several cancer patients where they talked openly about real issues from mood swings to fears of dying in pain, how people can really help to ‘cancer face’ – that face people look at you with when they know you have cancer. Many talked about battle language and cancer.

"The women interviewed didn’t feel brave - I’m not brave, I would run away if I had the option, one quipped. Many felt exhausted by the constant need to wear their game face."
The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer

It’s something we hear all the time – about people’s fight, people’s battle with lung cancer. It’s a phrase we try to avoid for a number of reasons, one being the implication if someone then dies. Did they not fight hard enough?

Kimmings’ conversations with residents from the ‘kingdom of the sick’ echo this. The women interviewed didn’t feel brave - I’m not brave, I would run away if I had the option, one quipped. Many felt exhausted by the constant need to wear their game face.

It was a topic talked about at length when Kimmings was joined by Lara Veitch. Lara has Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, a rare inherited genetic predisposition towards cancer. It basically means those affected have a higher risk of developing cancer across several generations, and from a relatively early age; nearly half of affected individuals having a cancer diagnosis before they turned 30.

Lara was diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome at 23 and since then has had surgery to remove tumours from her kidneys and liver as well as having a double mastectomy and undergoing 7 months of chemotherapy. She is currently having proton beam therapy to treat a tumour in her pelvis. It’s fair to say she is more than qualified to talk about cancer.

Whilst endearingly nervous, Lara spoke with a steely grit and determination of her numerous experiences, from her anger at people’s inability – including the doctors - to understand why she did not want a breast reconstruction after her mastectomy to her melon craving (no pun intended!) during chemo. She appeared comfortable in an uncomfortable setting, the voice of someone who knew herself and who knows what she needs. Above all, she needs people not to disappear.

Because cancer is not easy and beneath the songs and sequins, that fact remains. It is not easy for those diagnosed with it. It is not easy for those who love someone who has cancer. It is not easy for those who have lost someone to it. The stifled sobs and unashamed tears that rolled down the faces within the audience - including my own - as the proverbial curtain fell told us that. People are just trying to survive, at every stage of cancer, in any way they can.

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