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Play Tells One Family’s Cancer Story

Based on research by SDSU Professor Wayne Beach, “The Cancer Play” highlights the importance of communication for cancer patients.
“The Cancer Play” is free to the public at 7:30 p.m. on April 12 and 13 at San Diego Lyceum Theatre.
“The Cancer Play” is free to the public at 7:30 p.m. on April 12 and 13 at San Diego Lyceum Theatre.

The cancer journey often begins with a single devastating phone call. The calls rapidly multiply into dozens of conversations sharing information, support and prognosis.

The real words of a real family battling cancer are at the heart of “The Cancer Play,” a theatrical performance addressing the difficulties people face when communicating about cancer. The play, based on the research of San Diego State University professor Wayne Beach, will be performed on April 12 and 13 at the San Diego Lyceum Theatre.

“The Cancer Play” combines social science research and the arts. It provides a lesson in the complex and often misunderstood communication challenges arising from cancer diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.

“This project is unique in that researchers have never before had access to actual family conversations about cancer, from diagnosis through the death of a loved one,” said Beach. “The research, book and now the play provide valuable insights into how a real family navigates changing cancer circumstances."

From book to play

The play is an adaptation of Beach’s book “A Natural History of Family Cancer: Interactional Resources for Managing Illness,” which has received two awards from the National Communication Association. Written in 2009, the book is the result of nearly ten years of research and analysis of 61 phone conversations between a woman diagnosed with cancer and her family.

Directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, the play integrates theatrical performance and talk back sessions to help to disseminate and popularize the findings of basic communication research.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, “The Cancer Play” breaks new ground as a theatrical genre that relies on the intimacy and authenticity of naturally occurring conversations. No such materials have been previously artistically adapted.

Future goals of the project include: innovative educational programs for cancer centers, medical groups and health professionals; university and community play productions; and a documentary film.

More information

“The Cancer Play” is free to the public at 7:30 p.m. on April 12 and 13 at San Diego Lyceum Theatre. Reservations are required: call 619-410-5061 to reserve tickets.

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