“Staging” Her Breast Cancer
Christine Rathbun's one-woman show has brought healing both to her audience and herself.
By Lydia Fong
Every time Christine Rathbun steps onstage to perform her play Reconstruction, or How I Learned to Pay Attention, she relives the moment eight years ago when she learned she had stage II breast cancer. Recalling her panic, she tells the audience, “I don’t understand how you can be so sure ... mastectomy next week. Chemotherapy—six months. Then radiation ... mounting panic. Wait. I am 34. Wait. No history in my family. WAIT. I have a six-year-old daughter. How can this be happening? ... Cancer. No. My daughter. No. My breast. No. My life. No. No. NO. And sh-t—I just paid 50 bucks for a haircut.”
“Being on stage and performing some of the painful scenes ... I’m catapulted back to 2001, and that fear and terror is quite visceral,” Rathbun says.
Since Reconstruction’s 2003 debut at Harwich Winter Theatre in Cape Cod, Rathbun has performed it more than 40 times in theaters, libraries and churches all over New England, earning honors (it was a finalist for a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant) and raves like “strong, funny and kick-ass.” In just a little over an hour, Rathbun shares her raw and often funny thoughts on her treatment (which, ironically, did not include reconstructive surgery), motherhood, dating, her ambivalence toward wearing wigs and pink ribbons, and her journey to healing and self-love. “I’m exhilarated afterward because it’s partly a defiant scream, which feels so good just to say, ‘I fought it, and I’m here, and I’m talking about it eight years later.’ ”