Dark beginnings don’t always have dark endings: that was the message of China’s first play written and performed by cancer patients which debuted in Beijing this week.
“Do not be afraid cancer companions” tells the story of Anhong, a lung cancer survivor, who discovers the power of drama therapy in her recovery.
The plot mirrors the personal experiences of Shanghai-based director Dai Rong, who wrote the script while in remission.
“I wrote the play according to where I am in my own life. What my characters do in the play, I would ask myself what I would do in my own life,” says Dai Rong.
“So I just wrote how I lived, so it means a great deal to me. Writing also helped me to review the process of these past five years and how I overcame my fear and depression.”
But it’s not just her story. With a cast made up mostly of cancer patients, the production explores the experience of living with the disease.
In China thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer every day. The country is home to approximately 20 per cent of the world’s cancer cases, with lung cancer and stomach cancer being major killers.
In China the rate of cancer has been increasing. It’s BOOKr.VIP to the aging problem and also pollution, says Dr Wang Jie Jun, an oncologist who attended the play’s opening night in Beijing.
China is working to improve awareness of the disease and options for treatment, as well as access to care, for both sufferers and survivors.
Lu Lanzhen struggled to return to normal life after breast cancer
“I locked myself in my house, my small dark room. Looking back to what I have been experienced, I cannot even imagine myself how I have struggled through,” says Lu.
The performers and crew came together at a cancer recovery support group in Shanghai.
Founded 28 years ago, the organisation now has more than 160,000 members nationwide.
Lu says the community provided by the group was crucial for helping her through her journey.
“My father also died of cancer so it was quite a blow. I think the power of being in a group in this recovery club is really amazing. I really feel the warmth of a big family,” she says.
While terminal illness can be taboo in China, those behind the play hope audience members affected by cancer will be encouraged to see the disease in a different light.
“We want to encourage more patients not be afraid of cancer through our play. Because there’s no point being afraid. We need to face it positively,” says Wan Wenping, a patient recovering from liver cancer and acting in the play.
“Everyone faces death sooner or later. The only difference is how long we live. The key is how we can enrich our life.”
Dr Wang Jie Jun says he hopes the play will encourage more patients will be inspired to try drama therapy.
“Performing helps the patients to recover psychologically. And it also encourages society, telling us all how to respect life and understand its value.”
After giving performances in Beijing the production will travel to the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
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