Thursday, April 19, 2012

Visible Ink Reading of Patient Works at Sloan-Kettering

On Monday night a lifelong dream was fulfilled for me. A piece of my writing was chosen by committee this past December to be published in the anthology and staged at Visible Ink's Fourth Annual Reading of Patient Works – a writing mentorship program for patients treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. My piece "Kitchen Charades" came to life on stage amid a beautiful, intriguing, funny, heartwarming, emotional program of 18 pieces focused on a wide variety of topics written by Sloan-Kettering patients and performed by actors with Broadway, Off-Broadway, film and television credits.

The funders, volunteers, and coordinators behind Visible Ink hosted an incredible evening. The auditorium was full and even more viewers filled an overflow room where they watched the performances on screen, giving us writers and actors an audience of more than 500 people. My piece was the final act, nothing like the pressure of being the closer! It was a surreal experience to hear my words being read by someone else, the scene they describe being acted out hilariously before my eyes, reliving it all in my head, and hearing the audience's immediate response – which I'm proud to say was roaring laughter, including my own, as the actress portraying the Turkish woman was spot on with physical comic prowess. I had no idea what to expect and was so impressed and thrilled with how they staged my writing.

My wonderful husband and parents were there to support me and together we toasted and enjoyed a wonderful reception afterward with delicious gourmet appetizer bites from fig and fontina stuffed phyllo dough to smoked salmon toasts, wine, and Crumbs Bakery mini cupcakes of every creative flavor.  I had the opportunity to catch up with my mentor, the founder of the Visible Ink program, author Judith Kelman and meet the actresses and the talented director/choreographer, Greg Kachejian, who brought my piece to life. The whole night was humbling, rewarding and awe-inspiring.

The final text of the piece is pasted below the photos. It was based off a blog from this past summer that I reworked. A professional video of the entire program was filmed. As soon as it is posted on Sloan-Kettering's website, I will post a link here on my blog.

Eager to be part of the audience. The auditorium was full and others watched from an overflow viewing room. 

The start of my piece. It was the final of 18 acts. Nothing like the pressure of being the closer!
A peek at the performance. 
The entire cast of the evening's program singing a closing song in tribute to all of us contributing patient writers.
Me and my Prednisone moon face swollen cheeks with actress Karen Wexler, whose voiceless but dynamic pantomimes had the audience roaring. 

With actress Catherine Augier (left) who narrated my piece with the perfect tone and inflection and my Visible Ink mentor and program founder, accomplished author Judith Kelman.  
The crowd scene at the post-program reception. 
Must-have cheesy photo.
My parents, Craig and me. Big night in the city after a long day of travel and a doctor's appointment at Sloan that lasted right up to an hour before showtime. They are troopers. 

Kitchen Charades
By Karin Diamond

I stumbled into the community kitchen bald, bleary-eyed and head swooning from nausea. It had been nearly two months of being away from home in a shared living space for those who, like me, required cancer treatment far from home. My patience with being a patient and a good cancer neighbor in this very intimate space was running low. My focus was only to get to our designated cabinet in the kitchen to scavenge for soggy cereal and milk to sate my nausea and dehydration.  

However, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the sweet – and ever dramatic –woman from Turkey, here, caring for her ailing husband. She started up with me right away. However, I had no idea what she was saying as she spoke zero English. We began a pantomime, a sign language of sorts back and forth. I was not yet fully awake and again, my nausea was fierce. A game of charades was not what I had in mind for 8 a.m., but that is what I found myself playing.

She pounded her chest and opened her eyes and mouth wide. Nope, I didn't get it. I said words back to her knowing full well that she couldn’t understand me. I thought that the first part of the story was about someone throwing out her chicken breasts from the freezer? I tried to explain the Sharpie name and room number rule (ID it or lose it) but don't know how far I got. My eyes and body were tired and weak, not conducive to non-verbal communication skills.

Then I started to get concerned that something was desperately wrong with her husband as her animations got more pronounced and her eyes swelled with tears. It was not the appropriate time to bury my face in the fridge to forage for milk – as much as I wanted to escape. Her hand kept going up to her mouth in a pickle claw shape. Then she hit her stomach and exclaimed: "Medicine. Medicine." then turned around to make her hand appear as if it were exploding out of her bottom in a violent motion.

"Your husband's medicine hurts his stomach?" I guessed.

She was not impressed with my Turkish accent attempts. I got only nods of disagreement in return.

"He can't keep any food down? He needs medicine?" I implored, all the while thinking, I should call 9-1-1.

Nope, not it. At this point I stood in the middle of the kitchen with the box of peanut butter Puffin cereal in my hand munching right out of it like I was watching a show with a bucket of popcorn at the movies. All I wanted was a cool bowl of cereal, but I knew there wasn't time for that, and I would just have to swallow my nausea with dry bites until I figured out how to help this woman.

This exchange went on for five minutes or so. She clutched her belly and made faces of pain and all I could come back with was, "Stomachache? Hospital? Vomiting?"

Then she started doing the hand explosion from the rectal area first. She raised her hand to her bottom in a shooting motion toward that area, rubbed her belly, then did the hand explosion motion again like her fingers were coming out of her anus.

In ... relief ... out? I thought between slow, contemplative cereal crunches. Hmmmm. Something went in, face of relief, then something came out. Crunch. Mindless crunch. Crunch.

I stared at her through my fingerprint-smeared glasses in deep concentration. Then it came to me! I had known much more than I had ever wanted to about this man’s stomach problems and was acutely aware that constipation was a painful issue for him in the days before. I knew it must have been related.

"Your husband took a shit!" I exclaimed as I pushed the most recent mouthful of Puffins to my cheek for safekeeping. "He got an enema and they blew it out of him?"

"ENEMA! ENEMA! YES!," She rejoiced at my recognition of this. "Much better! He much better!"

Oh, dear God, I thought to myself.

There was in fact no emergency. She just wanted to tell me so badly that her husband was eating a little bit again and that the doctors were able to blow out some bowel movements with an enema. How could I blame her for all the excitement? I told her how oh-so-happy I was for them and left with the cereal box in hand to go munch it dry in privacy.

If I had stayed there, who knows what the next charade card would have held.


  1. You... and your stories are the "ABSOLUTE BEST"!!! So very glad the the world is now able to enjoy them as much as we all do!

    All the best- take care.

  2. The kitchen at hope lodge was a great place. Our crew on the eight floor all became close friends. We would spend hours laughing around those stupid sticky tables.

  3. Wahoo!! Karin, good for you.

  4. I remember reading that blog post and laughing out loud at the scene you so aptly described. How perfect...they chose that one. You are an amazing writer.