The Story of How I Became a Zebra

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Within a month after I moved to New York City in January 2014, I began feeling symptoms resembling a UTI. When I went to a MedFirst facility, the doctor recommended I find an OBGYN because the issue seemed to be derived from my reproductive system. After multiple visits, scans, ultrasounds and bloodwork, everything had been ruled out except endometriosis, and my doctor told me the best and only remaining course of action would be a surgery to find and remove the endometriosis. It would be my choice, but since birth control wasn’t curbing my cramps or my inability to digest anything without experiencing diarrhea, panic attacks and flushing, I went ahead and booked it for April 9.

On the day of the surgery, my mom flew in from Buffalo to take me to the hospital. Before I went to the OR, my doctor briefed me on the plan for the day and how a laparoscopy works. She also mentioned she suspected my appendix wouldn’t be in good shape, and received my consent to remove it if that was the case. When I woke up, she told me they have removed my appendix and a few additional endometriosis tumors on my ovaries and uterus. I felt nauseous, but internally happy it was over. I spent the next five days in the company of my mom, roommate Roxanne and close friend Maria, feeling tired and sore but ready to return to my dream job.

Around 6 a.m. on Monday, April 14, I called my mom (who had returned home a few days prior) to explain my severe nausea, flushing and panicky symptoms. After I spread the news to my doctor, she asked me to come into her office near Columbia University for a checkup to make sure I didn’t have an infection from the surgery. After ruling out the infection hours later, she told me that my lab results from the tumors weren’t what she thought. The one on my appendix was something she referred to as a metastatic stage 1 carcinoid tumor. To me, she could have been speaking Japanese. I had no idea what that was, other than she wanted me to see an oncologist who specialized in carcinoids to get checked and make sure I didn’t have any more.

There is no way to explain the feeling of finding out you had cancer but it’s gone but you might have more of it. Not to mention that I had no idea what it was other than it had been the reason for all of my symptoms.

Without much of a choice, I made plans to move home within a month, and began a very long string of tests and scans. I was pricked and prodded with IV needles, made to drink nasty tasting liquid this and liquid that to scan my insides and make sure nothing else was there. I even got to enjoy the thrill of my first ever colonoscopy and endoscopy. I became a patient at Roswell, joining a community of fighters who all had one goal – just to keep surviving.

On July 29, I was given the all clear from Roswell, which more so meant I was in remission, as in, enough time hadn’t yet passed for me to be deemed cancer-free. I still had plenty of visits scheduled with my oncologist, gastroenterologist, primary physician, OBGYN and mental health counselor, just to make sure everything was okay all-around. It wasn’t until the following June, when I went back to my oncologist for a six month follow-up, that I was given really good news: I didn’t have to come back.

Sure, if I start experiencing symptoms again, that calls for some worry, but for now, I can keep some of those $30 copays to myself. But it’s really not over. It never will be. I still see a counselor and take anxiety medication to help control my panic attacks and hormone levels. There are still many things I can’t eat or drink, from dairy products and fried foods to alcohol, because they might trigger me. I still have bad days, as the syndrome associated with carcinoid can be chronic, but thankfully, the good are starting to outweigh them.

Things are better for me now, so, why do this? Why bother raising money if I’m in the clear? Because I don’t think anyone deserves to feel the terror of not knowing what in the hell their diagnosis means.

Being told you have a disease that you’ve never heard of is not okay. Being told that the only real medication that can curb your debilitating symptoms costs $3,000/month with insurance is not good enough. There are fundraisers after fundraisers for more commonly diagnosed cancers. And that is important! Those fighters and survivors need recognition and funding for research to move toward a world without cancer.

Neuroendrocrine cancers and their treatments are fairly new to the medical world, as is cancer occurring in young adults. As it happens, I represent both categories, I was diagnosed at 21 with a cancer that isn’t typically found until it’s later, most damaging stages and/or the patient is at least 45 years old.

NET patients are the zebras of cancer patients. All of our symptoms and situations are different from anyone else’s, and the reason it is so hard to maintain a quality of life even as a carcinoid survivor is because there is such low funding for research to try and learn more about this disease and how it can be treated.

Please join me in my strides for stripes campaign to help raise money and, more importantly, awareness, for this very complicated cancer.

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Broadway on Bedrest

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While I’m in recovery from surgery, I’m constantly looking for fun things to watch and take my mind off how I’m feeling.

Fortunately, if you have a Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription, you can still enjoy the magic of live theater without leaving your bed! Here are some of the wonderful things to choose from for your viewing pleasure:

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo star in The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall photo: Alasatir Muir/Getty Images & NBC/Universal
Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo star in The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
photo: Alasatir Muir/Getty Images & NBC/Universal

The Phantom of The Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (2011, Netflix) – starring the Love Never Dies dream team Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess along with West End crooner Hadley Fraser, this production celebrated the Phantom’s 25th anniversary in London. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s timeless classic has never been experienced like this, and as a frequent viewer, I highly encourage it.

Shrek the Musical (2013, Netflix) – Dreamworks’ best fairy tale comes to life in this taped version of the Broadway production featuring Brian D’Arcy James as Shrek and the stunning Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona. The story is just as magical as the film and is definitely a heartwarming way to spend the afternoon.

Into the Woods (1990, Netflix) – Stephen Sondheim’s take on a mashup of fairy tales makes for one hell of a show. The Tony-winning original Broadway cast, starring Bernadette Peters along with Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason and Kim Crosby, offers a new perspective on the ideas of “happily ever after.”

Raúl Esparza in Company Photo: Paul Kolnik
Raúl Esparza in Company
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Company (2007, Netflix) – Four-time Tony nominee Raúl Esparza stars in this revival of Sondheim’s musical about a bachelor pondering his views on committed relationships on his 35th birthday. Esparza is at his prime in this role, giving an enchanting and heartbreaking performance.

The Pirates of Penzance (1983, Netflix) – this production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s celebrated operetta was taped in Central Park starring Kevin Kline. It remains a rousing production, enjoyable for all.

Company (2012, Amazon Prime) – the New York Philharmonic production of Sondheim’s musical, featuring Neil Patrick Harris as Robert, lends more to the original staging and style of the show. While still heartwarming, Patrick Harris portrays a slightly more comical Robert than Esparza and interacts with countless recognizable stage and screen costars.

While I’m currently enjoying Phantom, I hope this list helps brings Broadway home for anyone looking for a theatrical experience to enjoy in t.

Trust me, you want to hear these people sing

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Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Photo courtesy of Les Misérables on Broadway
Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables.          Photo courtesy of Les Misérables on Broadway Facebook

Just when it seemed the Les Misérables hype was overkill, the brand new Broadway revival proves otherwise. The show, which opened Sunday at the Imperial Theater, features an incredible cast to give a fresh take on the classic.

The plot, if you don’t already know it, tells the story of Jean Valjean (West End star Ramin Karimloo) and the many lives he encounters/changes after he is released from a chain gang in early nineteenth-century France.

The best part about the revival was that each character had a story, as they should. I’ve seen both anniversary concerts and two touring productions and no cast has ever created such believable people within the story.

Karimloo is undoubtedly the all-star, and deservedly so. Making his Broadway debut after appearing in the West End and Toronto as the same character, Karimloo used every impressive muscle in his body to portray the conflicted, questioning man. He carried the show passionately with the vocal power of a God, bringing “Bring Him Home” to a completely new spiritual place. Karimloo’s Valjean is a must-see performance. (If you need any more convincing, I recommend this incredibly accurate Broadway.com list).

Will Swenson (Hair) gives an intense and driven performance as Javert. With consonants sharper than his jawline, Swenson displayed never-before-seen layers to this villainous character and shared a deliciously strong “Stars.” He also shared a biting onstage rivalry with Karimloo, putting the audience on the edge of its seat during Vajean’s encounters with his adversary.

“Smash’s” Andy Mientus, also making his Broadway debut as Marius, rounded out this trio of strong male performances. He portrayed the young, love struck hero perfectly, and belted a touching and heartfelt “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” Kyle Bishop (Mientus’ character on “Smash”) fans will also be thrilled to watch Mientus in a show where he survives through the end.

Caissie Levy (Ghost), Nikki M. James (The Book of Mormon) and Samantha Hill (The Phantom of the Opera) represent the leading ladies of Les Mis, and beautifully so. While Levy as Fantine and Hill as Cosette sounded as pretty as they looked and safely pop-y, James was a standout with her brassy take on Eponine, making the continually beloved character a person the audience rooted for.

Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle mastered the house as the Thenadiérs, thanks especially to Settle’s original acting choices, which aren’t usually seen in Madáme. Kyle Scatliffe, making his debut as Enjorlas the student revolutionary, sang with intensity and heart. While pitchy at times, his character led fearlessly, a quality required to nail the latter portion of the plot. John Rapson rounds out the list of notable performances, who brought an incredible depth to the sometimes forgettable student, Grantaire. Rapson’s presence was strong and his choices stronger, and tugged at the audience’s heartstrings with his fondness for Gavroche (Joshua Colley at Tuesday night’s performance).

The projection design, along with the other updated elements of the new production, produced by Cameron Mackintosh, gave Les Mis a fresh and visually stunning facelift. Seamless transitions sped up the lengthy show, keeping the audience’a attention at every moment.

Overall, this production of Les Mis came home at exactly the right time. It’s edgier, fresher and stronger than ever before, with a passionate and skilled cast filled with actors making their Broadway debuts telling the timeless tale of faith, love and life.

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Les Misérables

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, original French text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, additional material by James Fenton; adaptation by Trevor Nunn and John Caird; based on the novel by Victor Hugo; directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell; original orchestrations by John Cameron, new orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke, Stephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker; lighting by Paule Constable; costumes by Andreane Neofitou and Christine Rowland; set and image design by Matt Kinley, inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo; musical supervisor, Mr. Brooker; associate director, Anthony Lyn; musical director, James Lowe; executive producers, Nicholas Allott and Seth Sklar-Heyn; general manager, Aaron Lustbader for Foresight Theatrical; musical staging by Michael Ashcroft and Geoffrey Garratt; projections by Fifty-Nine Productions; sound by Mick Potter. Presented by Cameron Mackintosh. At the Imperial Theater, 249 West 45th Street, Manhattan; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com. Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes.

WITH: Joshua Colley or Gaten Matarazzo (Gavroche), Emily Cramer (Old Woman), Natalie Charle Ellis (Wigmaker), Jason Forbach (Feuilly), Nathaniel Hackmann (Constable/Foreman/Courfeyrac), Samantha Hill (Cosette), Nikki M. James (Éponine), Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean), Andrew Kober (Innkeeper/Babet), Caissie Levy (Fantine), Chris McCarrell (Laborer/Fauchelevent/Joly), Andy Mientus (Marius), Dennis Moench (Farmer/Claquesous), Adam Monley (Bishop of Digne/Combeferre), Betsy Morgan (Factory Girl), Angeli Negron or McKayla Twiggs (Little Cosette/Young Éponine), Max Quinlan (Jean Prouvaire), John Rapson (Bamatabois/Grantaire/Major Domo), Terance Cedric Reddick (Lesgles), Arbender J. Robinson (Constable/Montparnasse), Cliff Saunders (Thénardier), Kyle Scatliffe (Enjolras), Keala Settle (Madame Thénardier), Will Swenson (Javert), Christianne Tisdale (Innkeeper’s Wife), and Aaron Walpole (Champmathieu/Brujon/Loud Hailer).

#PhantomMermaid is the most Majestic news of the week

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Image courtesy of Broadway.com
Image courtesy of Broadway.com

hehe…Majestic…see what I did there….like…the theater?

But seriously, this is the greatest casting news ever. Not only is the beautiful songstress Sierra Boggess returning to role of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, but the one and only NORM LEWIS will be joining her as the Phantom!

Broadway.com reported the news Thursday afternoon, and Twitter exploded with excitement and congratulations. While Boggess will be reprising her role she has portrayed on Broadway for the 25th Anniversary as well as the Royal Albert Hall, Las Vegas and London productions and the West End production of Love Never Dies, Lewis is making history as the first African-American actor to portray the iconic role on Broadway.

Lewis, a Tony-nominee, mentioned it has been a dream role of his for a long time, and it follows in a long line of impressive performances including his show-stopping role in Porgy and Bess opposite Audra McDonald and arguably his most well-known appearance as Javert in the 25th Anniversary concert of Les Misérables.

Both actors begin performances on May 12, and it can’t come any sooner. Seeing two actors with such promise (we have video evidence of Boggess’ perfected version of the role) and such chemistry share the stage will be quite a treat for Broadway audiences.

Sure, the fact that they’ve played father and daughter opposite each other (Ariel and King Triton in The Little Mermaid)  presents a bit of an acting challenge, but my girl Sierra, rightly dubbed by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber as the “best Christine” and the vocal powerhouse that is Norm are definitely up for it.

Tony Award-winner Lin Manuel-Miranda had the greatest reaction to the news, tweeting lyric mashups of songs from Phantom and The Little Mermaid with the hashtag #PhantomMermaid, which was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on Twitter.

Just a sample. I highly recommend you go Twitter-stalk him to read more.
Just a sample. I highly recommend you go Twitter-stalk him to read more.

In additionally awesome casting news, Manuel-Miranda will also be starring in the City Center Encores! production of Jonathan Larson’s tick..tick…Boom opposite Tony-Award Winner and In the Heights costar Karen Olivo.

Talk about two fantastic pairings! March has certainly been a month of major announcements for the theater world, and 2014 looks to be one of the best years for theater yet!

Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat

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A.k.a. Why we all need to calm the eff down about casting movie musicals.

Ok, friends. We all know that casting directors for movie musicals don’t always get every note right. Star power often overwhelms the need for the best voice. Especially in musicals such as Les Miserablés or Mamma Mia! with many lead and supporting roles, it’s easy to justify putting a less qualified star in a major singing part and satisfying the need for musical talent in other roles.

However, while movies like the Academy Award-winning Chicago achieve the most perfect combination of talented performers, casting whims can go dangerously awry when star bankability can be impossible to ignore. Pierce Brosnan remains the worst casting choice in movie musical history.

I know what you’re thinking – what about Russell Crowe’s lackluster performance as Javert? While vibratto wasn’t something that appeared to be in his vocabulary, at least he had some vocal talent and even had a legit moment when he belted “reprieved” in his (SPOILER ALERT) suicide scene. Plus the rest of the cast was fantastic, which helped make up for it.

Alas, I digress.

The Pierce Brosnan problem lies in the fact that he can’t sing at all. I’m sure he gets an A for effort but his voice is terrible. Sure he had the Sam Charmichael charm but WHY would you give the earsore of an otherwise talented trio of male suitors the part with twice as many songs?

That reason alone is why we need to be very careful about who we publicly proclaim as a good choice for a movie. I know we’re all relieved Taylor Swift never made it to Eponine, but things like that can and will happen if the fans don’t speak out.

All of this stems from all the rumors/casting polls happening for the future film adaptation of Stephen Schwartz’s musical Wicked. Broadway.com’s weekend poll asked fans to vote for their top choices to play Fiyero and the results (listed by popularity) is as follows:

1. Justin Timberlake

2. Nick Jonas

3. Harry Styles.

Dear friends who voted for one of these choices…what are you all on?

Image courtesy of style.mtv.com
Image courtesy of style.mtv.com

First off, JT is the only one on this list who I would be okay with. He’s definitely got the moves and has majorly improved his hairstyles since the ramen-noodle bleached tips days. While he’s never been on Broadway, he’s got a serious set of pipes and could definitely sing the part. I’m just never the biggest proponent of putting a pop star in a theatrical role. (I’m sorry but Carly Rae Jepsen cannot fill Laura Osnes’ shoes. She sings the in the Brandy key in all the songs and it’s just not the same).

Nick Jonas should be kept far away from the project. Yeah, he’s been on Broadway, but he’s also still a pop star. Unless they’ve been trained to sing for musical theater they honestly just don’t know how to do it properly. (I’d have more faith in vocal coaches had Russell Crowe learned vibratto during the months of training for Les Mis). I still HATE that Jonas on the Les Mis 25th anniversary concert (which has an otherwise flawless cast). “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” is the best song he does, yet even there it’s still incredibly evident that he can’t hold notes out like Marius is supposed to. And that’s not personal preference, haters, that’s HOW IT’S WRITTEN IN THE SCORE. Don’t even try to live through the section of “Look Down” with all the students…it’s the saddest imbalance of Ramin Karimloo’s effortless Enjolras and Jonas’ inability to hold a note more than two seconds, much less flip into a falsetto.

Harry Styles should keep going in the One Direction he is already in. He’s too pop-y and too much of a novelty (i.e. You show up on the cover of that many Tiger Beat covers, you’re going to need at least 5 years before I’ll take you seriously in pursuing another career path.

Sure, this is all purely hypothetical and there aren’t any concrete casting decisions being made yet. But I would bet public opinion could give producers ideas for who to cast or where to look for stars. All I ask is that we all think a little more carefully about our choices when tweeting about our dream cast.

And, for goodness sake, while she rocked as Donna Sheridan and will probably be good in Into the Woods, KEEP MERYL AWAY FROM WICKED.

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