|Lincoln Hospital patients with playwright and instructor Bridgette Wimberly (3rd from left).|
When 41-year old Sharona Ponder saw a local theater performance of “Stripes,” a short play she wrote about her journey battling and beating breast cancer she cried tears of joy.
“It’s the only kind of tears I want to shed these days,” explained the the South Bronx resident and single mom, who was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago and has been receiving care at Lincoln Medical Center’s award winning breast health program.
A quick look around the audience the night of the play showed Ponderwasn’t alone in being moved to tears. “It was amazing to see how other people reacted to my play, I was so happy that I could share my story, touch hearts, and even uplift people a little,” she said.
Ponder was one of four breast cancer survivors whose plays were staged at Pregones Theater after they participated in a special writing workshop by playwright and director Bridgette A. Wimberly.
Wimberly is one of dozens of artists who have been sharing their creative services with patients in exchange for healthcare at the hospital through the Lincoln Art Exchange. The Lincoln Hospital program offers uninsured New York City based artists and arts workers the opportunity to receive healthcare services at no cost for giving of their time and talents to the patients and staff. The program began in January 2012 and has nearly 60 artists enrolled, with dancers, painters, singers and three playwrights including Wimberly.
“These women are so courageous,” Wimberly said of the breast cancer survivors-turned-playwrights, whom she taught how to write plays in six short weeks. “They are often amazed to see someone else perform their words, and it’s not just a cathartic experience for them, its empowering and life changing as well.”
In addition to “Stripes,” by Ponder, which refers to the heroine’s penchant for wearing clothes with bright stripes while battling breast cancer, the other Lincoln Hospital playwrights and their works were: Inmaculada de García’s “Sobrevivi el asesino natural” (“I Survived the Natural Killer”); Quintina Díaz, cancer survivor, and her son Louis Díaz, caregiver, “The Letter;” and Theresa M. Brown’s “I Never Doubted Him.” The four plays were performed at Pregones under the artistic direction of Elise Hernandez and as part of the acclaimed program, “From Cancer to Broadway,”
Wimberly says that the Pregones staging was even more compelling because of Dr. Sydney McCalla’s unique involvement with the production. Dr. McCalla, Chief of Breast Surgery at Lincoln, is the character in the play who the women call Doctor Miracle. He attended the performance and after the show answered questions from the audience about breast cancer awareness and treatment.
Wimberly was inspired to start the playwriting program in 2009 when her sister and mother of two, Bernadette Scruggs, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Wimberly says her sister kept sharing stories from her support group. Being a playwright she thought that she could teach women to channel the stories of triumph, survival, love and life in the one art form that she loves—through words.
“I think the Lincoln Art Exchange is a fantastic program for artists who need it,” Wimberly said. “I would have taught the playwriting workshops regardless of whether I received health care in exchange, but I appreciate that I do have these credits that I can use for health care if I need it.”
Among the playwrights Wimberly has taught are Bronx mother and son Quintina and Louis Díaz, who together wrote about how a mother and son are impacted by the news of her breast cancer, in “The Letter.”
“Writing this play has meant so much to me because it has allowed me to share my story with other people,” Quintina Díaz said. “I hope other women will be inspired by my story and will get screened for breast cancer. God bless you.”