It’s been a little while since my last update here on the Danieley Digest. I’ve missed you all terribly. We’ve gone through a whole summer and a lot has happened. I’d like to take this time to let you know exactly what has happened.
Don’t be thrown by the title of this blog “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar!”
I have not found my inner, trapped woman and joining the ranks of Caitlyn Jenner. That would be a scary sight indeed.
No, I am referring to a particularly tough journey my family has been on over the last five months and the strong, positive center of this journey is my wife Marin.
When last I left you, just before the opening of Terrence McNally and Kander & Ebb’s The Visit on Broadway, I was chronicling the life of an actor in the theatre. I am thrilled to be able to return to that mission.
Sometimes, as a writer, you hit a dry patch of things to write about or have a hard time finding inspiration. Sometimes you have so much to write about that it can be overwhelming and you can only tread water in your own pool of ideas.
Other times, what you want to write about, what you need to write about is so personal that you can’t write about it until you are past a certain milestone when you feel you can share this important piece of information.
Even then, poised to share your very personal story, you are unsure how others will interpret it and how they will react. The best way for us to share our story is to write about it ourselves and ask for your complete consideration. We hope that it may help others in some way.
Our a-Mazzie-ing Journey of 2015
(A hell of a journey in three acts.)
April 23rd. 2015: Opening Night of The Visit!
It’s always a wonderful experience to open a brand new musical on Broadway. Excitement is in the air, pure electricity passing from friends, to family, to business acquaintances… there is nothing quite like it. A celebration of this true American art form.
I was thrilled to share it with my family as it was so important to me.
(Marin, Jason, Kara (sister in background), Carole (mom), Corrie (sister))
That very same week Marin was rehearsing Zorba!, another musical written by Kander & Ebb, which was going to be performed at Encores! at City Center for it’s usual one week run.
Marin and I have been very fortunate to have worked with John Kander and Fred Ebb on many occasions and love delving into the varied worlds they’ve created over their long career.
Marin was playing The Leader, a role that our friend Chita Rivera had also played.
(Chita as The Leader)
Chita and Kander were very excited about Marin playing this role and there was an extra, extended kind of buzz going on during this already exciting evening.
Rehearsal for Encores! productions are very short and very fast, around seven days to rehearse and three days of tech. It is like being shot out of a musical theatre canon where all of New York’s theatre community comes to see your finished product with very high expectations.
This show was starring John Turturro, Zoe Wanamaker and Marin as well as many other accomplished stage actors. Very exciting!
During rehearsal Marin was feeling a bit uncomfortable in her stomach/abdomen area. She thought it was just basically a weird bloating but it didn’t seem to go away and in fact seemed to get worse as the week went on.
She went to our doctor who thought it was probably nothing more than constipation (sorry, just the facts ma’am.) but ordered some tests anyway. Marin is an extremely healthy eater and also an avid gym rat so it seemed weird that this could be anything serious.
To try and make this long story short…
The tests came back and they found a growth on one of her ovaries which we would later find out were on both ovaries and extended on to her peritoneal wall. Not the news you want to hear.
The bloating turned out to be ascites, a fluid that cancer cells produce. Marin was filling up with this fluid which made her constantly and extremely uncomfortable. But there was a show to do… right? Damn right.
I have personally known and worked with two people who had cancer and were going through treatments while performing on Broadway.
Kathleen Freeman during the run of The Full Monty on Broadway:
And Roger Rees during The Visit:
Two incredibly strong and positive life forces who refused to let their health dictate how they lived their life.
And that is exactly how Marin was going to attack this incredible role. She used Rog, who was performing the male lead in The Visit at the Lyceum Theatre with brain cancer, as her inspiration as she somehow willed herself on to that stage for each performance, feeling such extreme discomfort and pain, not knowing how she would move around and give a performance.
But she did.
She really did. People who didn’t know what she was dealing with, which was basically everyone, thought she was giving an incredible, career defining performance. Marin is a chameleon of an actress and people are always wowed by her transformations but this seemed to be a particularly potent part.
I think it was a role she was meant to be playing as she got the news, literally on her first performance of Zorba!, that she had ovarian cancer.
The first words of the show come out of her mouth as The Leader. She sings to the audience…
“Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die. Life is how the time goes by.”
But she wasn’t going to sit idly by she had a role to do, a very important role, and that is to be a cancer survivor.
She took her very well earned bow…
… and got on to the biggest role of her life.
The “hell of a journey in three acts” that I mentioned are the three sections of her treatment that she has been going through. Marin is being treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital here in NYC. It is one of, if not the, best cancer hospitals in the country. Her surgeon is the head of the gynecological oncology division and her medical oncologist is also very accomplished and both are wonderful human beings.
It’s was quite reassuring, while I was waiting during her exploratory surgery, to see Dr. Abu-Rustum’s name in New York Magazine as one of the top doctors in New York.
The ascites that I mentioned added up to six liters of fluid in her abdomen (picture three 2-litre bottles of soda) and another liter and a half drained from her lung. No wonder she was so uncomfortable!
Act I: Four rounds (12 weeks straight) of chemotherapy.
Marin has taken a very strong and deliberate, positive stance on her treatments. The medicine that goes into her body is there to help her beat the cancer. There are side affects, no doubt, but you have to go through this in order to get better. So she has been embracing this tough road by calling her chemotherapy “healing therapy”.
Another very positive role model who is a performer and who very publicly dealt with her cancer is our friend Melissa Etheridge.
The positive view Marin was already using as her mantra and meditation was greatly affirmed by Melissa. She found it was paramount in her healing process.
It is unavoidable that ones hair will fall out during chemotherapy treatments. As you know Marin had one of the most beautiful heads of long blond hair to grace the stage. But it’s JUST HAIR, it isn’t who she is as a person. And fortunately Marin knows this and that element wasn’t traumatic as it may be for some.
Believe me, it ain’t easy to go through but it will grow back. Here’s Marin after her first haircut by our long time stylist friend Tara. Tara did Marin’s hair for our wedding 18 years ago and still does… or will do.
(It’s cute, right?)
I am woman, hear me roar. NOT! I am a head of hair, hear me roar.
One of our short term goals was after Marin was finished with her first four rounds of healing therapy and before her surgery we would perform a gala concert at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA that we had scheduled some time ago.
We created a new show for the occasion and performed it to a sold out house. Marin and I did 90 minutes straight through and she gave it everything, which wasn’t diminished in the least by her treatments and had energy to spare. It was a triumph!
Act II: Surgery. A complete hysterectomy and bowel resection.
This isn’t an easy surgery but it is something that Dr. Abu-Rustum has done many times for many years. So our confidence in the man was great. It was not an uncomplicated procedure and it wasn’t a quickie either but he said everything went as he expected it to and was even pleasantly surprised by some things.
Marin’s recovery time went very well. After we got past a really scary reaction to the narcotics she was given for pain, she was on the road to recovery. No grass was growing under her ass.
She was doing laps around the 10th floor at MSK and by that weekend she was ready to go home but not before she was visited by 15 to 20 friends in small groups of 5-7. Marin held court in the library/conference room regaling her audience with her experience on York Ave. and 67th St.
(Marin and longtime friend Donna Murphy.)
Next the unwelcome visitor of an infection from the surgery:
It wasn’t something we were planning on but given the area the surgery took place there is no way to say with 100% certainty that there wouldn’t be any contamination. So only three short days after Marin’s return to our apartment she had to return to the “far east” side, to MSK, to deal with an abscess.
She stayed there for a grueling week of extremely harsh antibiotics that fought off the infection but also caused side affects that were much worse than any of the healing therapy side affects.
We’ll fast forward through this part as it was unforeseen, and not a part of the plan. A real pain in the ass, literally as that’s where they had to drain the abscess through a drain out of her very lower back just at her Gluteus Maximus.
But even during this horrible side bar she looked great doing her laps around the 10th floor.
If you are a friend of mine on Facebook you undoubtedly saw many photos of sunflowers. These are Marin’s favorite and an incredibly vibrant botanical friend to have on your window sill while you are recuperating.
Act III: Four more rounds of Healing Therapy.
And here we are still recovering from surgery but moving on, quickly, back to healing therapy. It’s another 12 weeks and by the end of this Marin’s team of doctors are quite confident that this will be in remission. I say to the moon and beyond with the crap.
The weekly side affects of the healing therapy is all pretty manageable. Headaches are dealt with with coffee, caffeine being one of the main ingredients in migraine medication. So that’s always at the ready. Fatigue is pretty strong on certain days but you know when it’s coming and we can adjust our schedules and appointments as we need.
We have a house upstate NY in the lower Berkshires. We have found a lot of time to get away and soak up the beauty of the healing countryside.
Marin has lost a lot of weight and so I’m constantly trying to get her to eat foods she would never have eaten before. Which is fun, unless she doesn’t finish it and then I have to eat it, which is fun but it does accumulate… in all the wrong places… if you know what I mean.
Marin’s brother, Mark, looked up the two chemo drugs she is on. The main ingredient of one is from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree and the other is platinum. Who doesn’t love platinum? We dream of having platinum rings, platinum albums… but we really like the idea of a tree helping Marin heal.
We are surrounded by trees here at the house and as I type Marin is lying in a hammock under our favorite oak tree.
She loves watching the nut hatches, black capped chickadees and tufted tit mouses flit around from tree to tree. We are a part of nature and nature is a part of us. If we embrace the beauty and strength of what is around us it can sustain us and even give us life.
It feels very important to write this for you, to let you know what is going on in our lives. I mean, we don’t have to and, in fact, we are quite private people but I personally think that the way Marin has captained her own ship of positive thinking through this crap storm is worth noting.
Many people are inspired by the performances she has given, the artist she is as an actor and a singer. I think her real person is very inspiring as well. If you can be moved by her portrayals as Diana in Next to Normal, laugh at her outrageous outsized personality as Lily/Kate in Kiss Me Kate and inspired to “Journey On” with her as Mother in Ragtime it’s worth noting that the real person of Marin Mazzie is at the core of what you are really falling in love with in those roles.
I hope she can help buoy someone up or give strength to a person who is just starting their journey with cancer. The science is out there. The surgeons and oncologists have incredible technology to help us, BUT even as Dr. Abu-Rustum said there is a lot that rides on your personal outlook and positive attitude that will help you beat this.
Marin will be back in action as early as November doing concerts. We will be in San Francisco in December with our new show from Barrington Stage Co. Life is different. Life is new.
Please know that even though Marin is strong it does take a lot of energy to even acknowledge someone’s well wishes in a simple way. Right now her focus needs to be on keeping her strength up. If you are interested in writing her you can do it through my Facebook page. Jason Danieley That way she can read them but not respond to them. That is just too much to handle right now.
If you do write I would ask that you would be considerate and keep your comments positive. Everyone’s story and journey with any illness is unique. I’m sure you can understand.
Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, meditations, white light… anything and everything you are capable of mustering that is positive and good and sending it to Marin.
PS: Marin wanted me to share a picture of her bald. That’s how she’s rollin’ on this. Bald is beautiful!
PPS: In case you are wondering how she is today, well, she walked three miles with the dog in the park, walked up and down our drive way five times which is 100 yards long, swept out the garage (guess, I should have done that), did two loads of laundry and she moved her summer and fall clothes around. Like I said, no grass growing under her ass.
For the garage sweeping I’m going to share my favorite pic of a recent trip to a Farmer’s Market.