Breast Cancer Affects Many Lives: Production at SU of Personal Stories Shows the Impacts

Nov 7, 2019

Women shared their stories and images about their breast cancer for the Look Now photo project. They also formed the basis for TitBits: Breast Cancer Stories being performed Nov. 9 & 10 at Syracuse University's Newhouse School.
Credit looknowproject.org

Breast Cancer affects a lot of lives in a lot of different ways.  That’s exactly what a local production of entitled Tit-Bits: Breast Cancer Stories is trying to show. 


AnnMarie Giannino-Otis heard the diagnosis – breast cancer – and really didn’t know what was next.

“I actually vividly remember saying to my girlfriend, ‘I can’t wait to just have this mastectomy and be done with it.’ And that’s so far from the truth.  … this project, both the photography exhibition, Look Now, and TitBits, shows that side of it, that real raw, uncensored, unfiltered, side to cancer.”

Sam Gruber of Syracuse lost his wife Judy after a second bout of cancer.  He remembers seeing the Look Now exhibit, by Syracuse University Professor of T-V, Radio and Film Tula Goenka.  It showed breast cancer survivors and some of their physical and emotional scars.

“I was very agitated.  And in talking to Tula afterward, I said, ‘these are all very inspiring stories, … but you know so many people die of breast cancer.”

Gruber represents one of those other narratives – as a caregiver – and tells his story of loss.

“I also give voice to my wife, who is not here today.  We also allow readings from her very wonderful and extensive blog, which she maintained for three years while she was going through her last bout of cancer.”

(For information about the performances, which are free and open to public, click here)

Titbits tells stories from victims and survivors, those such as Sam who endured loss, even doctors who treated cancer patients and have their own emotional reactions. 

Producer and Director Tula Goenka, Professor of TV, Radio & Film at Syracuse University's Newhouse School
Credit Cindy Bell for Look Now

Producer Goenka weaved the various stories together in Tit Bits with the help of writers Nancy Keefe Rhodes and Kyle Bass.  AnnMarie remembers her four children having very different reactions to the cancer diagnosis, ranging from anger to tears to just not understanding why his mother couldn’t snuggle with him.  She hopes telling the stories help opens up understanding.

“I think it’s really impactful for those who aren’t in (the cancer community).  I remember going to an event … there were photo journals of everything I had gone through and she turned to look at me with tears in her eyes and she said, ‘I had no idea what you went through.’  And I think that is really what this project is going to do.  I think people are going to realize what you go through.”

Many have to go through cancer with little support.  And Sam Gruber notes it can be hard for the patient to reach out for help. 

“But for all of us who don’t have cancer, we have to increase our level of compassion and understanding and empathy in a very active way.  It’s not enough to say, ‘oh, if you need me, let me know.  I’ll help.’  Well, a cancer patient can’t think of what she needs.  You have to anticipate what she needs and you have to do it.” 

Producer Goenka, a breast cancer survivor herself, wants to show that cancer happens to an individual, family and community. 

The documentary theater production of TitBits: Breast Cancer Stories will be presented this Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in the Newhouse Three building at Syracuse University.