MID-CITY — Local cancer research and treatment center Premiere Oncology will hold an event Saturday, calling on its patients and cancer survivors to share personal stories to raise money for research and to help subsidize some treatments offered at the facility.
The Truth Be Told Gala will feature a lineup of monologues about the experience of living with the disease, interspersed with musical performances.
There will be a silent auction after the program.
It’s the first year Premiere Oncology has taken on anything of this magnitude, said founder Dr. Lee Rosen.
“Premiere Oncology and its foundation is all about empowering people who have cancer or who have survived cancer to tell the world stories of courage, hope and survivorship,” Rosen said. “Instead of victimizing them, the idea is to find the blessing that comes with a family member or you having a difficult disease.”
The format of the night will be a series of vignettes by patients, inspired by a book called “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson that contains short stories about the town from the perspective of different people in the community.
It’s perfect for a place like Premiere Oncology, where doctors and patients form something akin to a small village, said Emmy award-winning producer Dottie Archibald.
Some of the story tellers are professionals, used to the glare of the stage lights and exposing details of their lives to large audiences, but most are just regular people excited to talk about their experiences.
“No one has said to me that they don’t want to talk about it,” Archibald said.
Archibald wrote, directed and produced the show, which required knowing each speaker intimately in order to place their piece into the larger story arch of the night.
It’s left her with a lot of new heroes, she said.
“My road to wellness was not as rigorous as a lot of these people,” she said. “It didn’t make me as sick as many people can get. So when I hear about how many cycles of chemo, how many surgeries, how many times they were told they had gotten another kind of cancer and are here today looking like a million dollars, it’s really empowering.”
Although the evening is about cancer, it will be anything but depressing: Comedienne and professional writer Monica Piper guarantees it.
The woman wrote on hit sitcoms like “Mad About You” and “Roseanne,” and makes it a personal mission to get people to laugh, even when it has to do with the normally-dour topic like breast cancer.
“I’m comfortable telling my story because I feel really great that I make people laugh,” she said. “And they really laugh.”
Her story, called “Baggage,” is a mix of humor and heart, and tells the story of her search for companionship later in life despite cancer and family illness, Piper said.
“I’m happy to share,” she said. “They’re in a very receptive place to not be bogged down by the sadness of it all, and the fear.”
Guiding the evening along is Bradley Whitford, an Emmy award-winner and three time Golden Globe-nominee best known for his work on “The West Wing” and “The Mentalist.”
Whitford has never had cancer, but knows the pain when a loved one or acquaintance contracts the disease.
“We’re all a little bit in love with the notion of a hail mary cure-all end to cancer,” Whitford said. “The truth is, it’s about the ground game.”
Premiere Oncology focuses on the ground game, but uses a different playbook than most cancer research centers.
Not only does it study the western medicine approach to cancer — the center has one of the largest drug development programs on the planet — it also studies the efficacy of alternative medicine in combating the disease.
“I’ve long felt that people spend millions of dollars on alternative medicines because they’re in a desperate search to do something,” Rosen said. “I insist that alternative medicines get analyzed in the same way as the traditional.”
On the treatment side, many “alternative” techniques like emotional support, education and even nutrition are not covered by regular insurance.
While the ultimate goal of the evening is really to inspire, money raised by ticket sales and the silent auction will go to supporting those kinds of efforts.
“We will raise needed funds, but at the same time, it’s the community mission of getting the story out there,” Rosen said.
Truth Be Told will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Broad Stage, at 1310 11th St. General admission tickets cost $150, and reserved seating is $300.
Those interested in the event can purchase tickets by calling (800) 595-4849, or at www.truthbetold2011.org.