How Jack & Millie Came To Be
What made me write a new play about my breast cancer? It actually wasn’t originally my idea. My good friend, Phil Cameron-smith, was talking about a friend of his who had been diagnosed and was working through her diagnosis and treatment. He asked me how I seemed to be so positive about it and I said it’s like having an uncomfortable friend sitting on my shoulder that’s never going to go away. I even flapped my arms around in an attempt to show where this ‘friend’ would be sitting. My diagnosis was 2011 so this year, 2021, it will be ten years – whew! But, as I explained to Phil, my ‘Jack’ will never go away. There’ll be that little seed of doubt that’ll creep in when you least expect it and ‘bang!’ he’s back.
I had radiotherapy for 6 weeks and a few months later had to have a full hysterectomy. Many scary moments amongst it all but the psychological aspect is what I was really sharing with Phil. How I felt relieved when a very blunt nurse said to me ‘Oh for God’s sake, there worse things to have than breast cancer’. A bit of healthy perspective was good for me. I had done a bit of self pitying and it was time to dust myself off and get on with things.
I remembered feeling so special at Relay for Life doing the ‘survivors’ walk - proudly wearing my sash, smiling, waving. But then realising, the reality is I’m not really that ‘special’. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers. As Millie states ‘I’m not even unique’.
I started talking about inner thought stuff which you usually don’t share with people. Your fears when you are alone and not being ‘busy’. This is often at night when everyone else is asleep. Jack is in your face at that time. But ‘Jack’ gives me courage to deal with some things I had previously avoided and had given myself pathetic excuses to do so. I had a rethink about work choices, valuing people I respect and love and deciding to do more ‘stuff’ with them. Jack is a prompt to action for the right reasons. No more excuses, and that’s a good thing.
There was a point when I realised EVERY single pain or discomfort I felt was going to be interpreted by my inner worrying self as a definite and obvious symptom of a newly formed cancer. I realised that wasn’t a good headspace to be putting myself in so I acted on stuff. I get yearly mole maps, bi yearly colonoscopies (and the horrible prep that go
es with it) and generally get tested whenever my worry starts getting to the silly point. That’s a good thing.
So Phil listened to all this over a few long chats and suggested I should write a play about it. And he would like to be ‘Jack’. We had so much fun working out how it could be performed and we got great input from others very close to us who had cancer diagnosis. One good friend knew a boy who gave his cancer a name and said he was his friend he had to talk to often to make sure he didn’t ‘sneak up on me’. Wow!
Jack and Millie is really not just about cancer. It’s about how we deal with bad news and news that’s not going to go away. We describe the play as a ‘dramatic comedy’, that’s because it’s very human and real life, when you scratch the surface, is often hilarious. We put on brave fronts but our inner voice (Jack) swings back and forth, lies to us, encourages us, yells at us and says out loud what we only tell ourselves mentally. ‘Jack’ is truth. And all good comedy is based on truth.