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Giant, Inflatable Colon

We had a talk back after the show on Sunday. This elderly gentleman raised his hand. He asked that if during the six weeks in 2017 when I was feeling bad but had yet to be diagnosed, if I thought that any of the doctors knew I had cancer but didn’t tell me.

“Are you asking if anyone lied to me?”

“Yes,” he clarified. “Do you think anyone lied to you.”

“No,” I responded as politely as I could. “I not think anyone lied to me.”

I left the talk back feeling ever so grateful. I might be fighting a disease, but at least I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Part of me would rather be sick than insufferable.


The Holden Cancer Center is sponsoring our production of STAGES here in Iowa City. To kick off Colon Cancer Awareness Month, they were doing an outreach event that featured pamphlets, bracelets, and a giant inflatable colon. As a sign of appreciation for their financial support of our production, and sensing an opportunity to promote the show, Adam and I thought it wise to go to the outreach event and show our support.

I am so glad we did.

They had a table set up. Adam displayed some posters and postcards. I spoke to woman named Sloane, who was involved in outreach for the hospital. We had a lovely talk about the medical challenges facing the rural communities of Iowa. From access to hospitals, to finding doctors who want to live in these remote areas, the healthcare challenges facing people outside of our metropolitan areas are staggering to say the least. It made me happy to know that the people of Iowa have advocate as passionate as Sloane on their side. I hope all states are as lucky.

They were not lying about the giant inflatable colon. It was there alright. Ready for you to walk inside and take an unclose look at a polyp. They wanted me to go inside, but I wasn’t particularly interested. I never in a million years thought so much of my life would be dictated by my colon, I didn’t need to spend more precious time inside an inflatable one.

The highlight of the morning was getting the chance to talk to Dr. Saima Sharif.

The two of us are going to be part of a Talk Back/Panel Discussion after Saturday night’s performance. She wanted to be prepared, so a couple of weeks ago she emailed me and asked for a copy of the script.

She loved it! At least that’s what she said. Considering the fact that she’s been telling people they have cancer for fifteen years, I don’t see why she would feel the need to lie to me about her thoughts of my play.

The thing in the script she responded to was fascinating.

My artistic/ bohemian friends love the idea of wiggling our toes and being where our feet are. My more spiritual friends and those that have been caregivers respond to the puzzle imagery, and the idea of putting broken things back together. My dude friends respond to Jaimie’s bra.

There’s something in the show for everyone!

What Dr. Sharif responded to was my acknowledgment that as a patient, I have a hard time hearing things I don’t want to hear.

Of all the challenges that come with being a doctor, I imagine that breaking bad news to people has got to be the worst. She didn’t disagree with me. This was made all the more difficult by that fact that when people are given news as daunting as cancer, their brains tend to shut down.

“It just makes the job that much harder. Patients thinking I haven’t told them something we’ve discussed many times before.”

“How do you deal with it,” I asked.

“Family. Talking with other doctors. But the most important advice I was ever given was not to take my work home with me.”

One of the things people in the medical profession have said about STAGES, is that it allows them to see what life is like from the patient’s perspective. And that is important. They need to know what our lives are like outside of the 15 minutes they spend with us in the examining room.

But we the patients could also stand to see things from the doctors perspectives. We expect doctors to be these super human beings. Often times they are. At the same time, they are also human. There are limits to their knowledge. They are trying to answer incredibly hard questions, with life and death consequences. One of the people I met at the table was a man and his three daughters. They had lost their mother/wife to colon cancer less than a year ago. She was Dr. Sharif’s patient, and you could tell the loss weighed heavy upon her. As all her losses do. We are fortunate they have chosen to dedicate their lives throwing rocks agains the tidal wave of cancer. That they spend their off days standing in front of inflatable colons telling people to get their assholes checked. They deserve all the credit in the world.

No matter what old conspiracy theorists at Sunday afternoon talkbacks may think.

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