The shattering news came, as it does for many women, after Susan Chase had a routine mammogram.
When she got a phone message requesting that she call the doctor’s office, she figured it was just about a billing problem. But it wasn’t. It was about breast cancer.
That was 13 years back, when Chase was 45. She was a ballerina, so she’d kept in shape, watched what she ate, and saw herself as a healthy and fit woman. A few years passed after her operation and Chase, now a survivor frustrated by a sense that her life had been weakened, turned what she was feeling – and what she had learned – into a piece of movement theater called “Susan’s Undoing.”
She’s been performing the 70-minute piece on stages and at cancer support groups, and is now doing the show as part of the current Philadelphia Fringe Festival. “It tells a story that is very familiar to many people,” says Chase, who lives with her husband in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy area and dances, choreographs, acts and treats a roster of drama therapy patients. “When I was dealing with breast cancer, I discovered that the hardest part of that was not during treatment, as miserable as the treatments were. It was actually when that ended.
“You feel like the doctors stamp you with a “C” – you’re cured! – and then they push you out and it’s the next person’s turn. And this ritual and support is suddenly eliminated from your life … and I was horribly lost, depressed, weak and anxious.”
Chase’s play, in which she uses a ladder, ropes, blindfolds and even at one point a vaudeville-like routine to serve as different metaphors, deals with well-intentioned friends and family members who were unsure of how to react and spurs her to laugh at herself and her own reactions.
It also, she says, gives her a chance to tell women that they should tell their stories about their own battles – against cancer or anything else – in order to understand themselves. The process of learning about the cancer, fighting it and moving on “took so much out of me emotionally,” she says.
“It took my identity away from me – my identity as a dancer, as a creator, as an active person. And it was not until I began creating “Susan’s Undoing” that I, Susan, began to feel that I was becoming whole again.”
“Susan’s Undoing,” performed by Susan Chase, is a part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival of 135 productions and attractions and an after-festival bar with entertainment each night during the festival, through Sept. 21.
Of her remaining appearances in the festival, Chase is performing “Susan’s Undoing” at Studio 1831, at 1831 Brandywine St., at 7 p.m. Sept. 12, 6 p.m. Sept. 13 and 3 p.m. Sept. 14. She will then switch venues to the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St., where she’ll perform the show at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 and 19, 6 p.m. Sept. 20 and 3 p.m. Sept. 21.