It’s been a little while since I last posted a blog. To be honest, I have been a little unsure of what to write about.
I have been writing so much about, my wife, Marin’s journey with ovarian cancer this last year that anything else I have thought about writing that deals with “normal” life falls short in the importance category.
I’ve gone through a tough emotional, intellectual and physical journey and have been nervous to write about it for fear of stigmatizing myself.
And just as I think I wouldn’t write about any of it, I hear from someone I don’t even know, about how my journey as a caregiver to Marin has given them hope. It makes them feel that they are not alone in their feelings and their part of the journey. I’ve come to the conclusion that that is more valuable than anything else I can think of, so what the hell…
So here I come with an open heart with the intention of helping and healing both you and me.
You can go back in my blog list to read about Marin’s journey with ovarian cancer. You can also read a little bit about how I felt and had been coping with things. I was open and honest about my feelings and even honest in speaking about my talk therapy and seeking chemical help with anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medication.
They were very helpful in making sure I didn’t go “over the edge” or to be overwhelmed and helped me maintain my composure to be there for Marin.
I could, at any moment, tell you how I could “keep it together” in a variety of non-pharmaceutical ways.
But usually my answer was to keep on truckin’ with the anti-anxiety meds, talk to my therapist, and then, my own self-medicating “prescriptions” which included running my ass off…
Eating like a pig… (old childhood maneuver)
And the good ol’ German-Irish way of dealing with almost everything – drinking.
This added up to a lot of temporary fixes but nothing with a long lasting effect other than the talk therapy.
The booze and the food added a bit of weight to my body and to that fat kid that still resides inside me. That kid continuously haunts me and can easily push me over the edge on his own power. (That jerk doesn’t need any more help.)
Eventually I’ve come to taper off the self medicating, little bit by little bit, though not entirely and now I’m working on the “antis” as they have side effects that I just don’t need; thank you very much!
One side effect is weight gain which, as you now understand, I will not stand for. The meds helped me to not get all wound up over a particular situation, which has been helpful, but it also causes a bit of a “blah/meh” feelings/non-feelings in my head and that makes it very hard to memorize lines and lyrics… which is kind of crucial in my chosen profession.
(Don’t worry, I’m tapering the meds with my doc. And I managed to learn and perform “Trouble” from The Music Man with the Boston Pops along with “Soliloquy” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” so I think all is still in tact.)
It’s a slow process to get back to normal but that’s my trajectory and it will happen.
Meanwhile: Many of you know that simultaneously with the good news that Marin’s cancer was in remission, back in January, she was offered the role of Mrs. Anna in Lincoln Center’s Tony Winning revival of The King and I.
What a glorious way to “get back on track” starring in a hit show in one of the most challenging and beautiful roles written for a woman in the musical theatre canon. Not to mention the reviews! We don’t read them but we were inundated by friends who told us how glorious they were.
There also was the added bonus of making a new friend in Marin’s co-star, Daniel Dae Kim (of Lost and Hawaii 5-0 fame) A charming and talented man who took on the iconic role of the King and made it his own. He was splendid! They were splendid! What a wonderful pairing.
(Drawing by Justin “Squigs” Robertson for Broadway.com)
The opportunity to get back on stage after such a life changing journey was great for the spirit but Marin wasn’t looking at this as “everything’s back to normal”.
Last August Marin’s surgeon wasn’t able to get all of the cancer, during her full hysterectomy and major bowel resection, because of how it was spread, although contained, and not easy to access.
But her oncologist was certain that with her Healing Therapy (Marin’s term for chemo) she would get her into remission. Would the remission be lasting? Hard to say, there are no guarantees for these kinds of things. So with that you know that you have to go back to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital every so often to have blood tests run to see how your, in Marin’s case, CA-125 number is. CA-125 is a blood indicator of ovarian cancer levels.
If you saw this production of The King and I, you know how magnificent it was. It was the way you would dream of seeing this epic story told with a cast of 51 or so and an orchestra of around 29. On top of that the sets were huge and the costumes were beautiful and multitudinous so there were many, many crew and wardrobe people needed to maintain this production.
And alas, unless The King and I was sold out every show it was near impossible to make the amount of money to cover the running costs. The show hadn’t been doing as well as it needed to since January, although there was a huge bump up from Marin and Daniel and their reviews, and therefore had an earlier than expected closing.
But before the show closed we were thrilled that both Marin’s surgeon, Dr. Abu-Rustum (pictured above with Marin) and his wife, and Marin’s oncologist Dr. O’Cearbhaill and her team came to see the talent and light of the person they saved and the crowds of people who admired and cheered for her after the performances.
(Dr. O’Cearbhaill on left, Marin, and two of Dr. O’C’s team)
During Marin’s brief time rehearsing and performing this show she had several interviews. Many of them she used as an opportunity to talk about the gene mutation known as BRCA (1&2). Marin has the BRCA 2 mutation which made her more likely to have ovarian cancer.
You may remember hearing something about this when Angelina Jolie came out with the news that she also has this gene mutation.
This is an important women and men’s health issue, yes men can also have the gene mutation, it’s not all about ovarian cancer it includes breast and others. Marin used her platform as a Broadway star as an opportunity to start to the get word out.
And it’s her goal and mission to continue to get that word out. She will be traveling to Washington D.C. in the near future to talk to politicians and whoever… to see how she/we can help in any way we can.
Strangely and somewhat fortuitously the closing of K&I came the same week as Marin’s need for a check-in.
Nerves were jangling but Marin was feeling great. I mean she was running hither and thither on the huge Lincoln Center stage with a 40 lbs. hoop skirt and ball gown eight times a week. She was in good shape.
Her CA-125 number came back elevated which is sometimes typical so the idea was to wait and see how it was in a few weeks. The number was quite elevated so we were more than a little worried.
There’s nothing worse than waiting for news especially when it is something as monumental as “is my cancer back?”. You start living through the emotions of the “if/then” scenarios which are numerous and truly consuming.
My anxiety and emotions for Marin were rising while at the same time as I was trying to remain calm and solid for her so she could breathe and focus on being calm until we had word.
I didn’t want to be any distraction for her. I didn’t want her to worry about me. I needed to keep my shit together so WE could focus on her.
We went about our “normal” lives seeing friends for lunches, going up to our house in the Berkshires for the fourth of July week to spend some relaxing time before we got into more specific tests and before we would find out more about what to expect for Marin’s health.
Another CA-125 was run and it had skyrocketed so high that we were “certain” that Marin was now riddled with cancer.
Warning!: This is where patience should be firmly placed in ones life. When you don’t know anything, you don’t know anything.
More tests… CT scan with all of the contrast dye you can drink in 45 minutes. (Yum)
More nervous waiting… I mean what else can you do while you wait for this kind of news?!?
Fortunately Dr. O’C, her staff and the technicians were quick about all of this and got back to us within a couple of days.
(Paraphrased as well as Jason can remember the conversation.)
Dr. O’C: “We can’t see any cancer.”
Marin and Jason: (Whew!)
Dr. O’C: “But the elevated levels of your CA-125 lead me to believe there is cancer in there and we need to prepare for another round of Healing Therapy. A couple of lymph nodes and some fluid look like they could be the cause for the elevated levels but the HT should take care of anything that is going on. In some cases I would have this biopsied but I don’t think we need to do it in your case.”
Marin: “Let’s do the biopsy so we know.”
Dr. O’C: “You got it.”
The biopsy showed that a little bit, microscopic really, of the ovarian cancer has moved to the liver.
We are saying it is “visiting” the liver.
The word metastasis simply means to move from it’s place of origin. But the word carries so much negative history and is often related to dark connotations that we are opting for “visiting”. A term Marin and her best friend Scott came up with.
Marin and Dr. O’C discussed how the doctors, surgeons and staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering are looking for terminology that is not negative or combative sounding. Terms that are disliked, discouraged and sometimes create an unhelpful to healing imagery are terms like: fighting, battle, kill, win, lose, destroy. It makes people feel that they have failed or done something wrong, which serves no purpose for anyone.
Here is a snippet of an email Marin wrote to some close friends pertaining to where she stands on the issue of her cancer.
“I will now be managing this for the rest of my life. It will come and go but it is part of me. I think of my friends who are diabetic, HIV positive, have Parkinson’s disease, heck anyone who is dealing with a medical issue every day of their life which is a heck of a lot of people. I am not going to be looking to “remission” as a goal anymore. If I get there again, which Dr. O’C anticipates I will, that will be great for that time but it doesn’t mean that now isn’t great and full and wonderful. I am alive today and that’s really all one can ask for. I truly believe in the power of my mind and spirit and as you all know I believe in all your love, light energy, prayer, whatever you want to call it as being a vital part of my life and keeping me going. I was overwhelmed by it last night after going through some dark moments but then I could channel all the LOVE and it just makes a huge difference to how I think and feel. I am so blessed with my husband, my family, Oscar, and yes, with my health because I am a healthy woman living with cancer!”
Now, possibly more than ever, I see Marin as a true super hero and a wonder woman.
(Above) Marin receiving her first of her second kind of Healing Therapy. The chemo is called Pemetrexed and she is dubbing it Healing Therapy Pemetrexed Power because it sounds like something a superhero would do or have.
Our incredibly well read and creative dog walker Ana (aka Oscar’s girlfriend) did some research and said
“Your treatment has a chemical similarity to folic acid, which is interesting since everyone’s health depends on getting enough folic acid. Folic is from the Latin ‘folium’ which means leaf. So in a sense, you are taking in a wonderful substance related to leaves – which also mean that you are even closer to nature than most of us.”
(Just a picture of Oscar because he’s so damn cute! – taken by Ana, natch.)
And thus Marin’s journey continues with the trees that surround her and course through her during her HTPP.
Nothing is slowing Marin down!
In fact during and soon after all of these events took place Marin has begun a steady stream of working on shows that are in development.
She’s done a reading of a revival of a show that she’s had her eye on for a long time, which will be workshopped in the fall/winter; a brand new musical by James Lapine, Tom Kitt and Michael Korie that she is doing a reading presentation, this very second, on Martha’s Vineyard; a reading of a big splashy new movie musical; we will be returning to Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield Massachusetts on August 8th for an encore of our new cabaret concert “Broadway and Beyond” the list goes on and on.
The woman is NOT slowing down and doesn’t need too. Her HTTP treatments happen once every three weeks so life is manageable and not just any life but a…
“Marin A-Mazzie-ing” amazing life.
I began this blog by writing about my journey. It continues in tandem with my wife’s. I keep myself in check as do my caring friends and my loving wife. I will persevere as Marin will with a positive outlook and embracing the downs as well as the ups as part of the great journey.
I’m at Williamstown Theatre Festival doing a Wendy Wasserstein play called An American Daughter. I will be returning to Broadway soon after that closes to don my suave tuxedo as Billy Flynn in Chicago and much much more to come from both of us individually and together.
But mostly – Together.
We thank you for your thoughts, prayers, meditations, sending of light, your communing with nature (trees and flowers) all as a part of sending healing love into the universe.
Sound too granola for you?… crunch – crunch!
Please reach out for help to the Cancer Support Community, Memorial Sloan Kettering and for those in the “Show Business” actors, musicians, crew, orchestra etc… who are in need of help financially, medically, emotionally please contact Broadway Cares or The Actor’s Fund