STAGE DOOR VERSUS STAGE 4: I CHOOSE JOY. LESSONS FROM BROADWAY.
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Why do I love musicals? I don't sing, except for in my shower. Oh, well, in the car too and sometimes around the house; just to drive my kids crazy. I certainly don't dance. Zumba is the closest I have gotten to rocking it. Regardless of my level of participation I am IN LOVE with musical theater.
It is in my blood. My mother instilled in me my love for musicals. She has been in a singing production for the last 20 years. While I was growing up my mom listened to Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera while cooking and cleaning. My sister partook in high school musicals. With all the exposure I got hooked. Maybe with this background it has given me an old soul full of Gershwin and Rogers and Hammerstein. One of my favorite movies is White Christmas. I was so excited to see it on the Broadway stage.
Musicals for me have always been my guilty pleasure. A source of fun. A monthly date night with my husband; as we have season tickets to a local theater. It is a way to escape the stress of everyday life. To sit back and allow the music to fill my soul. The costumes and sets are a feast for my eyes. To hear the haunting melodies and just feel all the feels deep in my body. All the way from my head to my toes. I LOVE to lose myself in a good musical.
Since being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Musicals have been my therapy. I draw strength from the lessons I have learned from some of my favorite musicals. They are more than an escape, they are now a formula for living my best life, as I choose JOY while living with a terminal illness.
The first lesson came from Rent, this rock musical is from the 90s, about young artists living in New York with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is about love and loss and living. This musical gave me the back bone and foundation when my cancer diagnosis rocked my world. It holds one of my go to phrase. The phrase I repeat when I am feeling anxious about my scans and anxious about my future. It goes like this: A group of people are at a support group and the leader asks a participant, "How do you feel today?" The guy responds, "The best I have felt all year." and the leader says, "Then why choose fear?" This has morphed into my phrase of faith not fear. I FEEL good. I may not know what is going on inside my body at any given time. But I FEEL good so I am going to choose faith. Sometimes thinking about your morality can stop you in your tracks. Especially when living with a terminal illness, but as they say in Rent, "Forget regret or life is yours to miss." I look at my life and I love it. I have a beautiful family and I love my job. SO I do not live in what ifs and that is why I don't have a bucket list. I do not have regrets. I don't do regrets. I am living my best life. So if you have regrets take a look around and figure out how to change them, or cast them aside and move forward as the final phrase from Rent that I think about often is, "No day, but today." That is why I say YES more. There is only this one life and only this one day so grab a hold and do what makes you happy. Take a leap and try something new. Don't be afraid. Choose JOY.
As they say in In the Heights, "Just breathe." Not all musical have such weight to them as Rent; this musical has energetic music full of rap and salsa. You can get lost in the show and it brings a fresh air to musical theater. There is a grandmother figure, Abuela Claudia, that tells everyone to have "Paciencia y Fe" which is patience and faith. This is such a good reminder. We are a society of instant gratification and some of the procedures and treatment that I have to endure take time. Time to complete and time to wait anxiously for the outcome. Having to have IV treatments every three weeks takes patience. I look forward to the treatments. I try to think of it as some ME time. I listen to music, write letters to my kids and color. Sometimes I have friends come with me and it is a great time to talk and catch up. I don't schedule anything else on these day and enjoy this forced down time.
Not all musical have a specific lesson. Some are a total distraction and a feast for the eyes and ears. Maybe that is the lesson. Find your passion. Find something that can take your mind off your troubles. As they say in, The Phantom of the Opera "Close your eyes and let the music set you free." Phantom and Les Miserables are shows that I could watch over and over and over. I cry every time because they speak to my soul. It is okay to cry and sometimes crying at a musical is a wonderful release of emotions. I can project some of my sadness into the production. It is therapeutic to have a good cry. It is okay to be sad as long as you don't stay there. As they say in Les Miserables, "Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise." Les Mis reminds me to live. To live this life that I have been given the best I can. In the words of Victor Hugo, "To die is nothing, it is terrible not to live."
Not all musicals are a cry feast. Some make me laugh so hard that tears are streaming down my face. Even comedies have some lessons to teach. Avenue Q came to my mind recently. It has puppets, a bit naughty and so very fun and cheeky. A song from this musical popped into my head after having clear scans; no evidence of disease. I am wondering, now, what is my purpose. I have no regrets. I am living my best life. But do I need a purpose??? According to Avenue Q, "Purpose is a little flame that lights a fire under your ass." I have been a bit blah over the winter and I think that maybe I need a new purpose to light that fire. My identity for the last year has been to punch cancer in the face and now that I am stable I need a new mission. "Everything in life is only for now." So for now, I am just simmering on my purpose. I think I want to advocate for metastatic breast cancer. I think I want to help other women with cancer. Writing this blog today is part of looking for my purpose. I hope I am supporting women in all phases of their lives; to live there best life, choosing joy and faith not fear.
Mamma Mia is all about ABBA music and seeing the wonder of life. "Without a song or a dance what are we?" This musical helped to show me glimpse of my future with my daughter getting married. It gave me snapshot in my head when my daughter asked me to straighten her hair. I imagine doing her hair on her wedding day. Thinking about what she would look like as a bride. Mamma Mia a musical based on 70's music allowed me to make a deep connection with such a simple daily activity. Facing cancer down, living this life, I take these simple moments and treasure them. Without having this musical experience I may not have seen what a special moments I can create with my family.
Another irreverent musical that makes me laugh is The Book of Mormon. There is a great song about "Turning it off, like a light switch." Sometimes when my thoughts get too deep and scary that little ditty pops into my head and I give myself a little chuckle, take a deep breath and let go of those crappy thoughts.
Wicked is a musical of my hospital stays. There is a song that says "One more day in the Emerald city." As I use Sparrow for my health care and their color is green it only fits. So far I have been admitted three times. I know there are more to come having a song in my heart makes the time pass faster. Wicked, also makes me take a look into myself, "Because I knew you, I have been change for good." Sometimes I think having cancer has changed me into loving myself more and eliminating negative self talk. Oh, it is still there but I can shift my paradigm much easier than I could in the past. Wicked also encourages me to say YES more. To take a leap of faith and try new things. It also makes me think that maybe I will defy gravity. Maybe I will be that exceptional responder, one of the 25% that sees the other side of 3 years. I can defy gravity.
Three years. It is not very long. It will happen in the blink of an eye. 116 women and men day every day from metastatic breast cancer. It will be me someday. So I feel in my soul that I need to prepare the children in a less scary way. One of the musicals that paints a beautiful picture of heaven is Finding Neverland. I saw this for the first time in New York City. I had a tiny thought in my head as I watch it that I had cancer. The female lead is dying and she know it. In the song All that Matters she sings about how to carry on knowing your time is limited.
There are days when I feel so afraid
I can hardly remember to breathe
When reality crashes is wave after wave
Pulling me farther beneath
So what's the point in planning for a future
If it all can be stolen away?
It's all I can do to hold on and survive
When the colors have faded to grey.
And all that matters now
Is where I go from here
I know I'll find a way
If I live for today
The beating of my heart
Is all that matters
When the mother dies she goes to heaven in a beautiful glitter ball of light. I knew that is what I wanted my children to envision. That heaven is like Neverland.
Picture a land that you never have seen
Where life is eternal and ever green
A future of happiness all in your hands
Here in this place of your dreams
Here inside Neverland
How can I write a blog about musical theater and not include the iconic Hamilton. This musical is bringing fresh new life to Broadway. It is opening doors to a group of people who would have never watched a musical. It is also educational. My kids know more about our founding fathers than I did at their age. Full of beautiful choreography, amazing lyrics and a piece of history. I also had the opportunity to see this in New York City. It has some wonderful quotes that I think of often. "I am the one thing in life I can control," and "How lucky we are to be alive right now." When I am having down days, when it is hard to catch my breath at my reality, I think about these lines and take a deep breath. I can't control my future, but I can control this moment. I can control what happens in the time I have left. I am in control of my happiness and so I Choose Joy. I am so lucky to be alive right now. To have this time to leave a legacy for my children to just be the best person I can be. To be happy and to make others feel that happiness. My legacy does not have to be a Tony it just has to be enough that my friend and family realize that I love them and everything I did was to make life better for the people that I know and love. I don't want to leave this earth any time soon. I pray that I get to see my children graduate high school and that I get to see many more musical that will inspire me and put a song in my heart and guide me through this thing we call life. As they say in Hamilton, "I am passionately smashing every expectation."
I have to add a big shout out for the blog title inspiration to Wendy Timmons.