“My Voice” by Jill Harrison

Jill Harrison - 'Survivor'

I was 21 and a junior in college when I joined the cancer survivor club – diagnosed with a carcinoid tumor in my upper right lung on December, 26th 2003, the day after Christmas.  I went from never being in a hospital since the day of my birth to living in hospitals with countless procedures and an invasive removal of half of my right lung.  I was blessed with no need of chemo or radiation, and have had even further blessing of no reoccurrence thus far.

Since being sick I have struggled with sharing my story, feeling that there are really no words to describe such a traumatic event.  However, I eventually realized that my work in the theatre could serve as not only a creative outlet, but as a personal one as well.

Three years ago I began working on a theatre piece that illustrates the story of a young woman and her family and friends as they learn to cope with cancer and truly embrace life.  My play is entitled In Search of Hope, and it is based on my own story as well as several fellow survivors that I have interviewed over the past year.

In Search of Hope…the words, action, and emotion, have enabled me to finally connect and share the ‘voice’ – what it means to be a survivor.

Here are some excerpts from In Search of Hope the first is from Act 1, Scene 2, where the main character, Hope, is attempting to play the piano and ‘illuminate’ the world on what it’s like to be a young adult survivor.  The second is a part of the Epilogue at the end of the play, where Hope is finally ‘embracing’ her survivorship and its meaning…

In Search of Hope
By, Jill Harrison
Act I, Scene 2

Present.  Hope is 23. A Practice Room on Campus.
Hope is attempting to play the piano, Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy.


There are no words, really.  To describe what’s it like to have cancer.  It’s mostly check-out mode, where your body is doing things and you are remaining in life, but your conscious ideas and emotions disappear.  You breeze through these tests and procedures, finding out results about whether or not you have more tumors in your body, if it has metastasized, what level it is, percentage of recovery, pre-op., post-op., pre-treatment, post-treatment, honestly those are the easy parts – compared to what can potentially arrive months later.  After all the procedures are done, and you are sent home, and left with all the thoughts and emotions you never had time for – it is then that you find yourself asking, “now what?”.

Hope messes up. Pause.

How about dating?  This is an insane process already; add the cancer card and you are in for a ride.  I’ve become an expert in dodging most questions that could potentially lead to cancer conversations.  For example, when my date asks, “your hair is really short, did you just do that?” (And they do indeed ask these questions, I guess I should be done when they think of such things, but hey, I like giving people the benefit of the doubt).  I usually respond with a cute little smile, a cross of the legs, maybe even a little giggle and, “why, do you like it?  I’m going for that “I’m so mystifying I mystify myself” look”.  Add a wink, a sip of my ginger ale, and usually a-ok.  A little bit of irony usually makes him laugh or very uncomfortable, and with that I know what I am in for.

Hope messes up. Again. Pause.

And how about the reactions to no alcohol or cigarettes?  Oh, that’s always fun.  If I really like the guy I usually tell some story about this new fad diet that cuts out all bad things for your health, at the mention of diet, he usually moves on, boys don’t like diets, they frighten them.  And, if I don’t care for my date, especially if its date three or four and I am growing impatient, I have a little fun and respond with “oh, you know, booze and cigs don’t really help the cancer – and I say “the cancer” like my 80 year-old grandmother from Long Island.  Now, I know this is sorta cruel, but sometimes I get…tired.  Why can’t there be more people my age that can roll with things and not get so uptight?  It’s as if any mention of mortality is a major party foul, and people go running for the hills.  Death isn’t fun or easy, but it’s inevitable and honestly, sometimes I wonder if it’s easier than dating.  Sorry, again with the sordid humor.  It’s…how I get myself through all this mess.

Hope finally completes a full stanza.  On the last note we move into transition.

In Search of Hope
By, Jill Harrison


…They are a group; a community.  They get it. This.  They know what needs to happen in order for young adults to live with cancer.  They get the word out to other survivors, to non-survivors, to families, to friends, to doctors, to nurses, to social workers, to entire hospital staffs, to everyone that needs to know; know that 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer every year and that in 30 years there has been little to no improvement in survival rates.  Know that young adults need screenings, and clinical trials, and follow-ups and healthcare so that they can do all of that.  They are the new cool kids, full of life, living, and awareness.  They are me.

Hope takes a deep breath, smiles, and takes in the world.  She is a survivor.

Fade out.

End of play.