A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer

Image credit: Seymour Centre

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a comprehensive guide to dealing with cancer? A ‘do’ list and a ‘don’t’ list, and all you had to do was follow it and you would come out unscathed?

Unfortunately, for the half of Australia’s population who will be diagnosed with some sort of cancer by the age of 85 (and their families and loved ones), such a guide does not exist. There’s no given way to keep on top of your spirits, to cope with a prognosis that might end in death, to deal with the aspects of normal life when a loved one is very ill, or even how to stand up for yourself in a medical system where you’re always just a patient.

Image Credit: David James McCarthy

Byronny Kimmings, The Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer‘s writer and narrator, takes us through the journey of researching and putting together this theatrical guide, meeting women who dealt (and occasionally not well) with the emotional and physical strain of a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan and telling their stories. As often happens, personal life gets in the way and the Guide was pushed to the side, as well as her support for and relationships with these women and Super-Cancer-Woman, Lara Veitch, who has had non-stop diagnoses of cancer since before she was born. When a traumatic event happens to her young 4-month-old boy, though, the shared understanding of loss, grief, not-coping and the shittiness of cancer with the women she’s interviewed open a conversation that fosters connectedness, empathy and resilience.

It might seem strange to some to make a musical about cancer. But when asked on stage what helped them to cope, the most consistent answer was ‘humour’. The piece is authentic and honest about the ongoing difficulties facing female cancer patients and their close ones, and sometimes so confronting to hear the experiences of these women and simultaneously remember someone in your own life who suffered under cancer, so the silliness and fun that comes interjected provides much needed respite to process it all.

Image credit: David James McCarthy

This is a piece that respects and honours the hardship and loss that cancer brings. It brings out the individual and says, ‘hey, not everyone can deal with this the same. And that’s okay’. It gives pointers, from real women who’ve been through it all, on the best way to talk about it and to support sufferers. And it acknowledges the misconceptions and stigma surrounding cancer and throws them in a bin and lights them on fire. There’s no point in having silence – we’re all in this together so let’s have a conversation.

Would I recommend? ABSOLUTELY. 


Come along at 6pm this Friday (2nd March) for a Pre-Show Forum in the Playhouse foyer supported by the Cancer Council: join Genevieve Jacobs, Bryony Kimmings , Lara Veitch, Dr Paul Craft (local Oncologist), Sandra Turner (CEO Cancer Council ACT), and local psychologist Elly Law as they talk about cancer.

A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer is showing at the Canberra Theatre Centre this Friday 8pm and Saturday 2pm & 8pm (2nd & 3rd March). Tickets are available via the Canberra Theatre Centre website HERE.

* I attended as a guest of the Canberra Theatre Centre but am under no obligation to review and all opinions are my own. For more information about my disclosure policy, click HERE.