There is a Light: Brightlight, issues affecting young adults with cancer

There is a Light: Brightlight is a production based on new research, the first of its kind, which is a 5 year nationwide study looking at the experiences of 1100 young adults through cancer. The production was performed by a mixture of actors and people who have had cancer in the past, and it was beautifully performed so that you were often left guessing whether the performer was describing their own experience or not. They touched on many of the important issues faced by young people with cancer. I am going to try to avoid explaining the details of the scenes or how they portrayed the issues. One, because the show is travelling and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone in case you are lucky enough to catch it. Two, the show is their work and their interpretation, I believe I wouldn’t do it justice and it would be unfair to try replicate their voice through my own.

humour is often instrumental in coping and retaining sanity through their journey

If you get the chance to see it, please do, it is a brilliant and engaging performance. It was touching, sad and funny at the same time. The playful dark humour which was an undercurrent through the entire production was not only entertaining but also represented more accurately the lives of young people with cancer, how their personality and spirit is not lost. How humour is often instrumental in coping and retaining sanity through their journey. I will try touch on the issues explored, yet I am aware my memory will have bias. I am sure important issues and points will be missed out, and the ones remembered will reflect the messages which resonated with me and made the most personal impact. Each person will take different messages from the show and interpret them in their own way… another reason to go watch it yourself!

The show was broken up into four sections which had been decided to be the most critical aspects of a patient’s journey from Brightlight, which were: diagnosis, shock, support, death and survival. Several of the issues revolved around experiences of the health service. They started by highlighting the oddity of having to show strangers your private parts, often several at a time. Being poked and prodded over and over again, getting your balls or flappy bits out for a group of total strangers in a brightly lit room. How often, as a young adult you are accompanied by a parent or two and trying to decide how to ask the doctor about sex or other equally awkward topics. This occurs even more so for people with ‘female’ and ‘male’ cancers. So how do you explain to your doctor how it hurts when you have sex, or how do you answer when the doctors ask you how many people you have slept with, **Looks at mum, umm…😇  **. One personal highlight of mine was a scene showcasing the awkward feeling we’ve all had when the doctor asks about our hedonous habits such as our sexual partners, smoking, drugs, and drinking. How the judgemental tension in the room is palpable, especially with your beloved all innocent mother in tow.

Following on from diagnosis and leading into the shock, one of the most powerful scenes of the production highlighted the big ? over most questions during cancer treatment. A woman wound round and round in a circle, her anxiety building in her like a tornado as she asked simple questions, with more and more people responding in ever rising voices ‘research suggests… research suggests’. You could feel the frustration, how there are never any solid answers to cancer treatment. Even in the most common cancer, treatment is always a stab in the dark, even if it’s a well-educated stab: will it work/ won’t it work/ how will I react/ what will be my side effects/ will I lose my hair? With the treatment path sometimes only extending until the next scan, and there’s the possibility of a u-turn at every junction. The play also touched on the frustration of being told your treatment without having any input or autonomy in the decisions over your own health, with this being exacerbated by the added unfair underestimation of the young.

The play then turned onto support, where it pointed out the huge gap in services aimed at young adults. There was a ‘doctors blind date’ scene, with a patient asking three doctors questions to try find his perfect match, emphasising the gap in communication skills needed to deal with young adults. With some doctors trained to work with children who focus on parents and don’t communicate directly with the patient in a way that disempowers and patronises. The other doctor was used to dealing with much older adults and didn’t understand the needs of the younger patient. Finally one doctor seemed perfect, but was based hundreds of miles away, leading into the problem of the postcode lottery. They reemphasised this issue in respect to support available, how charities and services vary hugely depending on where you live and the funding available, leaving you either well supported or left with services inappropriate for your age and interests.

The cast also touched on the never-ending cycle of being in and out of appointments, showing the disruption to normal life. How your health and medical treatment takes over everything, and the new normal now revolves around the big bright lights of a hospital. Being on the dating scene with cancer was also a topic of discussion. When do you tell someone you have cancer? HOW do tell someone you have cancer? How will anyone ever fancy you if you have cancer!? This part of the play had the crowd giggling away, watching boys and girls alike body roll and snake across the floor, I assume with R. Kelly Bump ‘n’ Grind in their heads. This is a topic often overlooked in cancer support (as if old people don’t need to feel sexy), how do you maintain your mojo when you are tired, pale and hairless.

Towards the end of the play, the There is a Light: Brightlight cast beautifully covered the topic of death by each reading a eulogy. The emotion in every performer was evident, and you could tell the words came from somewhere deep within them, thinking of a past loved one. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience. If you get the opportunity to see this play, please go, it is engaging, moving, funny, warm and most importantly open and honest. Using stories and quotes from case studies of real patients in the Brighlight research it very accurately portrays some of the main stages and issues faced as a young adult with cancer.



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