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My Other Voice: Giving Voice to Young Adult Cancer

On the brink of graduation and a Broadway career, cancer threatened to take Alex Kip’s voice and his life. Two years later, Kip has held on to both, and he is sharing his story through theatre.

My Other Voice is a play written by Kip about his personal experiences as a young adult with cancer, starring Kip himself. Upon diagnosis, his mind was set on recovering in time for the “silly” senior showcase that doctors didn’t understand. When Dr. Foster asks Kip’s mom to break it to him that he would not be able to participate, this responsibility lingers; when it finally reaches Kip, he becomes distraught and untrusting. Interactions with the medical realm conveyed an arousing critique, calling for greater sensitivity in medicine. For respecting what patients value most in their lives and appreciating these needs whenever possible.

Kip experiences the destruction and recreation of identity as he loses his singing voice and finds a new one. As a patient, he loses independence and his sense of control as he is forbidden to work out. Cancer’s disruptive nature into Kip’s life as well as those around him is brought to life by the realness of each character. Each person responds to Kip’s cancer differently, physically and emotionally. Their actions and coping mechanisms vary, and getting to know these nuanced personalities and witness their transformations was a resounding effect of the play. The personal nature of illness as it permeates into lives is performed.

With the intimacy of the thrust stage, the audience is immersed in the performance. With young adult dialect, iMessages, and popular rap music, we enter into the college life. We even follow Kip and his friends as they get high off magic brownies infused with marijuana. Amidst the devastation of cancer, Kip finds friendship in a fellow cancer patient. Amy redefines what it means to have cancer, explaining that “You’re a survivor the day you start fighting.” While she herself does not survive in the traditional sense, her voice remains influential to Kip. Amy’s death illuminates the emotional depth to cancer, the disease reasserting itself as a threat to vitality.

Following the performance was a talk-back session led by Dr. Ora Pescovitz, the CEO of the U of M Health System. Through an interactive conversation with performers and audience members, some of the ideas introduced by the play were given voice. The discussion revolved around the controversy of medical marijuana, critiques about the medical profession, and value for artistic therapies in patient care.  I asked Kip a question of my own:

How did the experience of retroactively narrating through play differ from writing a Caring Bridge blog throughout treatment?

Kip noted how the therapeutic process of writing began to substitute for his lost voice. He explained that in adapting his story to play form, he referred to his Caring Bridge posts and some of his private journal entries. These helped him to reconsider the disturbing, to remember the forgotten. “When I was sitting in the hospital I realized that I could use my gifts to make a different in the fight against “cancer” (UM Cancer Center interview with Kip).

Kip demonstrates how everyone can play a role in the illnesses experience. The play may conclude with Kip singing alongside his loved ones, but his revitalized voice continues to resound.

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Theatre, Voice