“The Gift” of cancer

There’s a line near the end of the play that speaks to the gift that the young girl is given from her mother’s cancer. It’s a gift that’s hard to put into words.

Paige Falardeau

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. — There’s a line near the end of the play that speaks to the gift that the young girl is given from her mother’s cancer. It’s a gift that’s hard to put into words.

Stephanie, the daughter, tells her mother that she has learned “how to live, love and give so that some day someone gets that gift from me.”

The Gift is a play about a mother’s battle with cancer, as seen though the eyes of her 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie.

The experience of facing her mother’s cancer takes Stephanie on a journey of compassion and self-awareness.

She begins in a world that revolves around her alone. She sees only how the cancer affects her life. But by the end, her eyes have opened wider. She realizes it’s not only about her. It’s about her mother, her family, everyone.

The story of how she gets there will be told by drama students at Governor Simcoe Secondary School. They will present The Gift, a one-act play commissioned by the Hope Cancer Care Network in Chicago in 1998, on Thursday in the school’s Grantham Theatre. All proceeds will be donated to the Rankin Cancer Run, which takes place Saturday.

The idea for the play began with the school’s drama teacher, Rassika Malhotra-Risko. A woman close to her died of cancer, and she felt the play was a way to honour her and at the same time, teach students about giving back to the community.

It also has a special meaning to many of the students who have experienced cancer in their family circle.

Paige Falardeau, 15, lost her great aunt to cancer last year. She plays the daughter.

“I’m doing it for her,” she says.

In one scene, Stephanie dreams she’s at her mother’s funeral. She confronts her mother: “How could you bring me into the world, just to leave me?”

Hillary Kerr’s grandfather died of cancer when she was a young girl. The 15-year-old’s grandmother is a breast cancer survivor. Two of her aunts have also been diagnosed with cancer — one with colon cancer, the other with breast cancer.

“It makes you think about how lucky you are to have people survive,” says Kerr, who is part of the ensemble.

Last year, Sarah Winger’s aunt died of cancer. The 14-year-old is also part of the ensemble.

And three years ago, the production’s stage manager, 17-year-old Trisha-Lee Halamay, had her last chemotherapy treatment. Back in 2004, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and endured just over two years of treatments.

These days she’s in Grade 11 and talks to students at schools about cancer and the Rankin run. She sees an oncologist every six months.

“I don’t want to forget about it,” she says. “It’s given me the gift of who I am.”

“I’m proud of it and I want to share it with others.”

It felt only natural to be a part of the play.

“I can use this to help others,” she says. “I can do something with it other than just let it overtake my life.”

In the play, Stephanie finds out her mother has breast cancer after overhearing a conversation between her parents. She is confused, hurt and overwhelmed.

She runs away to the house of her grandmother, played by 14-year-old Christina Ismailos. The grandmother is a lung cancer survivor who carries around her last pack of cigarettes.

When Christina was a child, her best friend died of cancer.

“So many things happen quickly,” she says.

“It’s important to make people feel like they know they’re appreciated.”

“The gift the mother gives her is the ability to be strong.”

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