Los Angeles,
07:00 AM

Survivor Instinct: Patient Donates Show Proceeds to Cedars-Sinai Cancer

Actor, Writer and Grateful Patient Rebecca O’Brien Produces Award-Winning One-Woman Show, “Getting There!” with Proceeds to Benefit Cancer Survivorship Program

Rebecca O’Brien turned scribbles on a notepad into an award-winning, one-woman show—and she never saw it coming. The unanticipated work of art helped her uncover the seed of humor after a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. Now, six years later, O’Brien—a survivor—wants to pay it forward.

After the doctor delivered the news that she had invasive lobular carcinoma, a type of breast cancer, O’Brien didn’t even want to know the stage or type of cancer she was up against. “I didn’t want to give it any power,” she said.A flyer for Rebecca O’Brien's one-woman show, which she began writing while being treated for breast cancer at Cedars-Sinai. Image courtesy of Rebecca O’Brien.

O’Brien’s oncologist attributes that to her bounce-back nature and resolve to turn lemons into lemonade.

“Rebecca was like no one else,” said Arash Asher, MD, director of the Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship Program—part of the Patient and Family Support Program at Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Cancer Center. “She had a laugh so boisterous, it was hard not to laugh with her,” he added. “As I got to know her, it seemed that her humor was a big part of her reason for living.”

Monica Mita, MD, associate director for Breast Medical Oncology at Cedars-Sinai, agreed. Mita also treated O’Brien and says her willingness to expose her vulnerabilities with humor and emotion, even in front of an audience, is admirable.

“This is her calling,” Mita said, “and it’s the first time I have had a patient creating a show based on their health challenges and victories.”

Following surgery to remove a cancerous mass, O’Brien began six rounds of intensive chemotherapy, seven weeks of radiation treatments and a year of infusion treatments. Without the use of a car or loved ones living nearby, O’Brien rode the bus alone to the hospital. Each day brought new encounters with strangers. To pass time and keep her emotions from swinging to negative thoughts, O’Brien jotted down the impromptu conversations on a notepad. Fellowship with her newfound bus buddies became a silver lining during a difficult time. On the commute from Los Angeles’ bustling Fairfax District to the Cedars-Sinai campus, O’Brien launched her most inspired work.

She was determined to push past fear and depression. On mentally and physically taxing treatment days, she people-watched and fish-gazed—the hospital waiting area had a giant fish tank at the time, that served as a soothing distraction for patients.

“I didn’t know I was writing this show,” O’Brien said. “I was just keeping myself in the present moment instead of worrying. I wrote to entertain myself, not knowing those stories would ultimately entertain others.”

Staying in the moment was something O’Brien learned while participating in an improv program at Cedars-Sinai, designed by Emmy-nominated writer, comedian and breast cancer survivor Shelly Gossman, a Second City alum whose credits include Saturday Night Live.

The end results: A poignant and hilarious one-woman show aptly titled, “Getting There!” Last June, O'Brien's breakout production beat out 150 competitors to earn Best Solo Performance at the 2023 Hollywood Fringe Festival, as well as a coveted platinum medal for her stellar work. LA Magazine said, “'Getting There!' is a gem!” 

Now, O’Brien is raising money to restage the show inside L.A.’s Hudson Theatres. After paying for the theatre rental, as well as smallArash Asher, MD stipends to the cast and crew, proceeds will go to the Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship Program led by Asher.

The program provides support to cancer patients, including classes on exercise, nutrition, cooking and art.

My chief goal with developing these programs was to relieve some of the suffering and distress that our cancer survivorship community experiences,” said Asher. He added, “to have challenges like fatigue, chemo brain, neuropathy, insomnia and anxiety detract from roles with their families and communities compounds the problem—we want to do everything in our power to enable our patients to live their best life possible.

O’Brien is still creating, working on a memoir about growing up in Tennessee. She hopes that she can help other cancer survivors navigate their cancer journeys.

To learn how you can support Rebecca O’Brien’s one-woman show, “Getting There!,” please email rebeccaobrien2u@yahoo.com.

Read more from the Cedars-Sinai Blog: What’s My Breast Cancer Risk?