The Barter Theatre is all about community – bringing people together, giving back, and as Gwen Edwards learned, stepping up when one of their own needs help most.
Edwards, a resident actor for six seasons before leaving the Barter five years ago, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30 years old. As News Channel 11’s Kylie McGivern reports, it’s a battle she’s fought for four years now, with an army of supporters that include Barter actors past and present.
“I say to people all the time, that I feel like my cancer has really been a gift,” Edwards told News Channel 11.
Cancer. Gift. They’re two words you wouldn’t expect to hear in the same sentence. At least, not until you get to know Gwen. Not until you go back to December 23, 2011.
“I was just so NUMB,” Edwards recalls. “She pulled up my MRI results on the screen and – my whole body lit up with cancer cells. My eyes blurred over, and I couldn’t even – it was like this whirring in my ears.”
“The first thing I did, honestly, was I went to my favorite bakery and I bought a cherry pie. And then I went to a gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes. And I was sitting on the couch chain-smoking and eating a whole pie straight out of the box,” Edwards laughed. “Once my friend Abe came home and had his arm around me, and was like what do you want to do from here? It was, I… I want to live. I want to live as hard and full and long as possible for as long as I’ve got to live.”
Edwards’ breast cancer diagnosis didn’t end her life. Instead, she says it was an awakening, an opportunity to live life as she says it’s meant to be lived.
“You learn to forgive easier – more quickly, and you learn to let go of things that you’ve been holding on for too long, and it just makes you realize that the world is full of joy and love if you let it be. And there’s no other way to live.”
That said, her journey hasn’t been an easy one. Last week, presented a new challenge.
“They released me from the trial,” Edwards told News Channel 11.
Edwards was in a clinical trial for around 7 months, with a drug that treats the genetic mutation of cancer.
“It was working like gang busters. Stuff was shrinking, all the bone-metastases had disappeared, the stuff in my liver was shrinking, the stuff in my lungs was shrinking – and then, I had one randomly bad lab result,” Edwards said.
“Cancer doesn’t just happen to the person who’s diagnosed, it affects everyone in your life.”
Just ask Edwards’ older sister, Chanda.
“We moved her home about a year ago from Arkansas, and we – I mean, I thought we were bringing her home so she could die,” Chanda said, crying. “And she didn’t! And she just continues to live and thrive and has a positive attitude.”
Edwards says that’s thanks to her army of bright and shiny people, that have helped her maintain a sense of humor and grace.
Fellow actors have started an online auction in her name, inspired by an annual fundraiser at the Barter Theatre.
“I think that this auction is a really good representation of what it means to be a part of a community like this, where everyone bands together for the greater good of one person or many people. And something that I learned from my time at Barter and from acting in smaller communities in general, is what a bond you get with other human beings,” Edwards said.
“Life is about loving each other, and about serving each other, and about walking humbly with God, and I really feel like this experience has really confirmed that that really is what life is truly all about,” Gwen’s sister said.
That – and living life like it really is just a bowl of cherries.
“You gotta go out, and you gotta eat that whole cherry pie. Spend the money on the big vacation, take the trip you’ve always wanted to, tell people how much they mean to you, even though it’s incredibly hard to put into words,” Edwards said, tearing up,”how much you love other people and how they’ve affected you. You gotta say it, you gotta live it, and you gotta eat that whole cherry pie every single day.”
Copyright 2015 WJHL. All rights reserved.