Cancer Survivor


It is with overwhelming joy and a tremendous sense of relief that I can finally announce that as of October 16, 2014, my cancer is officially CURED. I can finally put all this behind me and move forward with my life. I will forever be changed by this experience and am grateful for the valuable lessons it has taught me. As frightening, painful and inconvenient as it was to live through, I wouldn't change a thing. I am a better person for having gone through it. To all of you, my family, my friends and even acquaintances, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness, love and support. This song, "As Long As I Have You", was written for me by my dear friend, Jill Santoriello and orchestrated by another dear friend, Ed Kessel. It is an anthem that I dedicate to all of you because I know I couldn't have completed this journey without you. I hope my story can inspire others who are in treatment, recovering or still waiting for a cure. Never, ever lose hope. Miracles do happen and one day that word "cancer" will forever be erased from every language in the world.



Rebecca's Cancer Story

Singing is not just my career, it's one of the things I love most in life. So, you can imagine my concern when I found a lump in my neck close to my vocal chords. After several tests and a few doctor visits, I was diagnosed on February 26, 2009 with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Ironically, my first question to my doctor after hearing the diagnosis was, “Am I going to lose my hair?”  My long red locks had always been my trademark, my identifying feature, my crowning glory. The answer to that question was, sadly yes, I would lose my hair. My next question (which in hind site probably should have been my first) was how will this affect my voice? I was saddled with the fear that this could possibly end my performing career, forever. My doctor matter of factly replied, “If we don’t save your life, you won’t be able to sing anyway.” I was soon scheduled for surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC and thus began my journey back to health.

The Hair Cut
After surgery, in order to prepare for what was ahead, I decided to cut off my hair. On April 15th, I met several friends in the basement of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City. My former Tale of Two Cities colleagues, Katie Beatty and Naba Steinhagen (who herself was battling ovarian cancer), were armed with their scissors and wig making accessories. I decided I wanted it to be a festive occasion so we all drank champagne, feasted on fruit, cheese and chocolate (of course) and celebrated the cutting of my hair. I felt like I was taking my first step towards thumbing my nose at cancer. I was going to decide where and when I would lose my hair; I wasn't leaving it up to the cancer to decide for me. It was an extremely emotional experience, but also very empowering. Two weeks after the hair cut, Katie Beatty made a glorious wig for me out of my very own locks. I still had my own hair... even if it wasn't permanently attached to my head!


The Benefit Concert

On April 28th, my birthday, several dear friends and colleagues organized a benefit concert titled “To Rebecca with Love.” Members of the New York theatre community put together a concert to raise money to help pay for my medical expenses. It was one of the most magical nights of my life and the generosity of the theatre community was overwhelming.  Fortunately, Katie had finished my wig in time for me to wear it to the benefit, and no one was the wiser - they all thought that it was my own hair!


Treatment

I began my cancer treatment on April 30th. The first phase of treatment was chemotherapy... I was the rookie at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia so naturally, I passed out as soon as I was stuck with my first needle. Nevertheless, I received 7 doses (1 every two weeks) of the drug "cocktail" called ABVD. It's hard to describe chemotherapy to someone who has never been through it, but for me, there were many days when I just stayed in bed and cried because I felt so miserable. I experienced just about every side effect you can imagine from mouth sores and stomach ulcers to bone pain and vomiting. I knew I would get through it somehow. Looking back on it now, I realize it was the love and support of family and friends that truly helped me keep going every day.

One month after completing chemotherapy, I began radiation therapy. Unlike chemo, radiation was almost a walk in the park. Treatments weren't nearly as debilitating and there is a little more social interaction between patients. It was amazing to me how fast I bonded with the other patients. Once you have cancer it’s almost as if you speak another language that only other cancer patients and survivors understand. I actually began to look forward to radiation so I could talk to “my gals”, Sue (who we lost in April of 2010) and Lynn. Everyone ends up sharing their stories and cheering each other on. Your life is forever touched by these very special people. Throughout my cancer experience and still to this day, I have been the recipient of random acts of kindness. I have received cards and letters from complete strangers who just wanted me to know that someone was praying for me. Many people have been more than generous whether it be making a wig from my own hair (Katie Beatty), organizing a benefit concert (Eadie Scott, M.J. McConnell and Mark Bradley Miller), shaving their head in support (Sam Carioti) or just holding my hand through chemo therapy (Carolyn Solzhenitsyn). I am truly grateful especially to my dedicated and loving husband, Merl Kimmel. Now that I have finished my treatment and am well on my way to being cancer free, I feel it is my turn to give back. I want to share my story and let others know that they can do it, that they can become survivors too.


The Photo Shoot

One of my most valued treasures to come out of my cancer experience are photos. Knowing I wanted to document my being bald, my dear friend and professional photographer, Mark Bradley Miller, came up with the idea of a bald photo shoot. Mark enlisted the help of makeup artist, Jarrett Brandon and I called some friends in Manhattan to see if we could use their apartment for the photo shoot. Everything fell into place and somehow after my sixth chemo therapy treatment, I managed to drive up to New York from Philadelphia and endure an eight hour photo shoot. To this day, I will never know how I did that, but I'm so glad I did. Here are the results of that day complete with inspirational quotes. These photos and quotes were used to create "A Year With The Bald Diva, Rebecca Robbins" 2010 calendar.


Taylor's Poem

A very dear, young friend of mine wrote a poem for her high school English class about my cancer ordeal. I was very moved by it and wanted to share it here. The Poem is by Taylor Ford who I first met while doing A Tale of Two Cities on Broadway in 2008. She and her dad came to see the show and I took them on a backstage tour after. Taylor and I  had an immediate connection and have remained friends ever since. Here is her beautiful and insightful poem written on January 22, 2013.


Goodbye

She was beautiful,
Rebecca Robbins
She had a full life ahead of her,
No troubles, no worries
She was graceful and theatrical
I looked up to her
And she taught me everything I know today
She had such a perfect life
She was on top of the world and nothing could stop her
But then she heard the words she feared the most
As time went on she got weaker
She lost her long, luscious, auburn hair
But her smile never faded
Rebecca decided to make the most out of what was left of her
So she made a calendar of pictures
Of her beautiful, bald head
She turned something so painful into something so wonderful
But then it was time to say goodbye
So she said goodbye to cancer
And hello to a long, healthy life