Psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School associate professor Nancy Rappaport is used to tending wounds. Just not her own.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2015 at age 55, Rappaport began writing because she believes “creating a narrative of our trauma is a necessary part of healing.” Regeneration is the remarkable product of recovery contemplations by a doctor/wife/mother of three—art spun from a survivor’s pink ribbon journey.
Regeneration is a daring piece of theater about mortality, a monologue in a dozen scenes. It is the remarkable story about one woman’s journey through breast cancer that illuminates the jagged edge between serenity and fear, strength and vulnerability. After a routine breast exam, Dr. Barrett is catapulted from doctor to patient, where she confronts her mortality with tenderness and humor. In an unexpected twist she finds courage at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist who published a fearless investigative memoir about her mother’s suicide, Rappaport calls herself a “rule breaker.” Regeneration lives up to that promise—although she says it’s “about a different kind of rule breaking, because my body has broken my rules.”
Part play and part poetry, the one-woman show tells her story both straight and slant. In one scene, an operating nurse hands Rappaport a box of tissues and says, “You needed your breasts to breastfeed. Now that’s done. You have cancer and they need to be removed.” Rappaport considers reconstructive surgery options with steely-eyed clarity: silicone sac, muscle graft … or perhaps a mastectomy tattoo? She declines all, at least for now. “Oh leave me be,” she says in the final couplet of a scene titled “Scarred Canvas.” “No mask for me.”
Although Rappaport labels herself “100% recovered,” she continues to ponder her own mortality. “I am not sure I have totally accepted it,” she admits. “I’d say that I am now looking at it closely.” After decades as a hard-charging New England professional—a marathoner, no less!—Rappaport says she is learning “to make an investment in being present in the life I am living.” The metaphor she discovered on her strolls through Mount Auburn Cemetery is the “dash,” that short punctuation mark between birth and death dates on a gravestone.
Mount Auburn, in fact, emerges as a supporting actor in Regeneration. “Who would have thought I would walk in a cemetery and find healing?” Rappaport says. This storied burial ground, which launched the public parks and garden movement in the United States, offers solace and inspiration. In real conversations with caretakers and imaginary ones with the early feminists laid to rest at Mount Auburn, Rappaport “shops” for the perfect plot and muses about the courageous journeys behind the epitaphs.
Rappaport acknowledges that she may be tempting fate by taking her tender recovery so public with Regeneration. Yet she says, “This is what the living do.… I live in my body. My body tells the story.”