SARASOTA, FL – The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe (WBTT) commemorated Breast Cancer Awareness Month by presenting a powerful play, Life in the Cancer Lane, on October 1 and 2; both performances, part of WBTT’s “WBTT Voices” community forums, were free and open to the public. Each show was followed by a panel discussion, each with a different focus. In addition, several organizations partnered with WBTT to provide important information to the attendees.
On October 1, the show was followed by an intimate discussion of the play and personal experiences with Dr. Bernard and Lois Watson, the playwright’s parents; Tonya Evans, chairperson and president of the Pinkwellchick Foundation Board; Nate Jacobs, WBTT’s founder and artistic director; Erica Sutherlin, the show’s director; and the five women actors in the play.
The October 2 presentation was followed by a panel discussion with leading area experts in the cancer field. Moderator and panel coordinator was Lisa Merritt, M.D., founder/exec. director of the Multicultural Health Institute. Panelists were Lee Green, Ph.D., vice president of diversity, public relations and strategic communications, Moffitt Cancer Center; Alissa M. Shulman, M.D., plastic surgeon, Sarasota Memorial Hospital chief of surgery; and Joelle Vlahakis, M.D., internal medicine, palliative care, pediatrics with First Physicians Group.
Due to the lower rate of self-examination and early detection amongst African Americans, they tend to develop a more severe case of the disease with poorer outcomes. In an effort to reduce health inequities in cancer diagnoses, the panelists urged the audience to perform self-examinations, visit a doctor immediately if they detect any abnormalities, and to participate in cancer studies. The panelists also brought a message of hope to those with breast cancer because of the increasing pipeline of diverse research as well as advances in treatment and surgical techniques.
The event was partially underwritten by the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation. Other organizations partnering with WBTT included the Multicultural Health Institute, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, The Links Incorporated, and Pinkwellchick Foundation.
Phoenix playwright and activist Barbra Watson-Riley wrote Life in the Cancer Lane in the midst of her own battle with breast cancer. Even after her death in 2013, Barbra’s story endures – informing and impacting the lives of anyone who has ever been touched by the disease. The story is told from the real-life accounts of survivors and their caregivers. Following her death, Barbra’s friends and family formed the Pinkwellchick Foundation, to inform and support Breast Cancer survivors.
This foundation creates “Barb’s Bags,” which contain comfort items for women going through chemotherapy. WBTT purchased 50 of these bags and has distributed them to cancer patients through the participating partner organizations.