I’ve booked a small part on a major medical drama and I’m in my car on Laurel Canyon when I get the call from wardrobe. “I’d like to go over your sizes,” wardrobe guy says. “Sure.” And I answer him – height 5’2″, weight, about 123, shoe size 7, pants… I know the next question – it’s going to be “bust” so I attempt to just say it as if I’m simply giving him the answer to his next question, “and I’m going through a breast reconstruction, for cancer, so one of my boobs is a lot bigger than the other, so I’m not sure what my old size card says – probably 34B, but I’m sporting a C… well, a D, a C/D rack these days. A ‘D’ I guess, for all intents and purposes… ” I keep talking, like it’s going to help. “Righty is still a B – but I had a gummy boob for the audition – so I’m sure it’s fine, but…”
I’m hoping really hard he is one of those very gay, very callous, couldn’t be less impressed with any variety of breasts, – ‘even if you covered it in Christmas glitter and shook it in my face, – I’ve seen it all honey,’ – kind of wardrobe guys.
And what am I supposed to say? I didn’t get a manual when I got the lump. Okay, I did get a stack of medical literature – I didn’t read it – how far in advance did I need to know that part of the reconstructive process would involve having to have the breast in question stretched to the enormous and surreal proportions of 600 cc’s – the size of a baby’s head – and I would have to wear this atrocity around town like a football in a skin bra for 2 ½ months. That, along with the awkward reality that my other boob, at best an unenthusiastic B, which was fine before – that is why God invented Victoria’s Secret push up bras. But now – now, next to her impossibly high and round sister, she looked dejected, pendulous. I name them “Porn Boob and Sad Banana.”
Wardrobe guy says “ok, well, you’ll be wearing scrubs – so it probably won’t matter.”
Oh, crap – TMI – maybe I didn’t have to mention it.
When I show up for my fitting I see my info tacked up on the board – under “bust” it says 34 – then the B is crossed out, then it says C – slash – D, then it’s circled with an arrow pointing to a note in all caps “PLEASE ASK TOM.”
When I booked the part my mother said, “Is it a breast cancer segment?”
My mother doesn’t have a very good track record for being tactful.
Like when she came out to help with my initial surgery. We were in the West Hollywood Target looking through DVD’s. My goal was to find a selection of shows that were not too heavy with lots of seasons to keep me busy through my summer of cancer. Back then the plan was 5 weeks of radiation, and the jury was still out on if I’d need chemo or not. So – I’m thinking “where are the copies of Ace of Cakes and Psych.”
My Mom picked up Fried Green Tomatoes.
“Mom, really, – have you seen it? She dies of cancer.” Ugh, Mary Louise Parker wasting away in that creepy upstairs bedroom.
Then she held up “The John Wayne Collection.”
I said – “died of cancer too,” she said, “well, he smoked!”
Then she picked up Overboard with Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn and said “what did they die of?”
But now it’s fall and even though I’m in the middle of my build a boob project I’m auditioning a lot.
This is ironic because for a brief and surreal window after my diagnosis – I feel like I have a giant cancer hall pass.
I remember walking out of my cancer surgeon’s office on this brilliant sunny California day and calling my agents to tell them I’ve come down with ‘a little case of the cancers’ and have to go on indefinite medical leave.
Then hanging up and feeling – a sense of relief.
For the first time in the 8+ years that I’d lived in Los Angeles I didn’t have to worry that my phone would ring and that I would have to drop everything to show up across town dressed as a soccer Mom or a nosy shopper or the amused wife of an ‘unable to cook unless he’s grillin’ and ‘he’ll only clean if he gets to use the Swifter inept yet luvable overweight husband.’
And this was crazy – crazy – because I love working: I moved 3000 miles, left everything I ever knew and loved to do this – to be an actor. And I was making a living – I would never leave acting – it was the love my life – …but I had just been fucked by life, so fuck my dream and what a fucking relief. Maybe I’ll buy an Airstream – drive across the country, write a book, live in the Florida Keys, give kayak nature tours, move to France and live in my friend’s house with cold stone walls that are two feet thick.
Cut to a couple of months later when I realize I need to (quickly, before my next surgery, ideally…) make $6,933.00 to qualify for my Screen Actor’s Guild insurance.*
I tell my agents I will go out for anything, anything, – and shamelessly ask for favors that land my headshots in the audition stacks of some top television dramas. I go into every one of them like I’m there trying to get a job for someone else.
It’s not about me and my dreams any more. It’s about $6,933.00.
I book the first job I go out for – the major medical drama. Then the next one – a certain crime scene investigation show, one set in a warmer clime, notorious for its plunging necklines. Again, I’m debating full disclosure of my half Anna Nicole chest when the young assistant eyes me up and down holding the flimsy tropical halter she has pulled for my character. “Was it elective?” she asks.
Was it elective? Was it elective? Yes – I decided a single super sized sweater puppy was exactly what I needed to catapult my career to the next level.
Commercially, there are a few casting directors in LA that I’ve worked with enough to consider friends and I want to personally explain my ‘on and off medical leave’ status.
I don’t want to be that girl with cancer, but I am that girl with cancer so I feel obliged to be that girl with cancer!
So I walk in to their offices, hoping I’ve balanced out Bert and Ernie in my bra and say my little line about “the case of the cancers.”
It’s empowering and mortifying.
After an audition for turkey cold cuts ‘so good you think it’s Thanksgiving,’ I have the talk with one of my favorite CDs. She shuts the door to her office and pulls out her scarred and misshapen breast – she’s just been through the same thing – and I cry, snotty ugly, puffy crying. in my place of business.
Astonishingly I book four of the six tv auditions. I make my insurance, thank God because my medical bills – the ones covered by insurance would be over $293,000 and since I didn’t have a small house or a Cessna around to pawn I would have been screwed.
But I do them like I’m on autopilot. I mean, I should be ‘in the moment,’ I should be happy –- these great jobs, Dude, I live for this I keep reminding myself.
And I try – I joke with the series regulars – trying to be casual and yet witty and memorable over fresh berry smoothies at craft.
But I’m not there, I’m not loving it and I don’t know if it’s because I’m self conscious – I’ve only ever had boobs this big on Halloween or at pimp and ho parties in college. And then they weren’t all jerry rigged and constantly lopsided.
Or that somehow – I think – even though it’s not possible – everybody knows I have “The Big C,” and that’s how I got the jobs.
Maybe I’m being passive aggressive, maybe I’m still mad at life for jerking me around – the high – the promise of freedom that comes with death – the inevitable and unstoppable
return to the daily grind of work and bills –- the tiny grains of reality that slip in like sand filling life back up to look like what it was before – stifling, and close, with no Airstream trailers or French country sides.
But I don’t actually have to figure it out. Not now anyway.
I haven’t watched any of the shows. I mean, I made the $6,933.00 – and if I really wanted to – I can just buy the DVDs.
*If you are a member of The Screen Actor’s Guild – now, One Union! with AFTRA, you have to make a certain amount of money to be able to pay them for insurance. I mean I get it, it’s not like they can afford to insure every actor. But come on – if you need insurance because you are sick, you are probably going to have a tough time working. To pay for your insurance…Tweet