“So…what happened?” my friend and fellow actress, Bethany, asked me as I gingerly sat down in the passenger seat of her car. It was a little after 8 am, and we were headed up to Springfield, TN to begin our first day of shooting for “Summer of ’67.” It was an independent feature film set amid the turmoil of the Vietnam War, and we had been cast as sisters.
I didn’t know Bethany all that well yet. We had met for dinner once we found out we’d been cast, and almost instantly, our conversation had gone deep. We’d gotten together a couple more times to rehearse our scenes, so of course, I felt comfortable talking to her. But this…this news was heavy. I had hardly told anyone outside of my family. I just wasn’t that comfortable talking about it. How do you drop a bomb like that? How do you even begin to broach the subject?
All Bethany knew in that moment was that I had had to have surgery a week earlier and couldn’t drive yet. I took a deep breath and smiled nervously as we drove out of my neighborhood.
I gave her an overview of everything that had happened in that last three weeks, from the discovery of the lump to the surgery. I reassured her that I was fine to be on set, but that I would just have to take it easy, and that I might need help changing my clothes because I couldn’t raise my arms above my head. Even getting my elbows to my shoulders was a stretch, literally. It had been eight days exactly since the surgery.
Maybe I was a little crazy for going to set so soon. But I couldn’t have been more thrilled to go. I’m convinced there’s very little in the world that could have stopped me from being there. It kept me looking forward. It was something to launch me past the surgery as quickly as possible, something else to occupy my mind. Plus, I was getting to do what I absolutely loved. I had known the role of Milly was for me, and there was no way I was giving it up.
Forty minutes later, we arrived at the beautiful Victorian home of the film’s director, Sharon Wilharm, where much of the movie was to be shot. I grinned. It was happening! Since I wasn’t supposed to lift anything, Bethany kindly carried my bag and script for me up to the front door.
Sharon greeted us as we entered the spacious house. It was filled with 1960’s decor, furniture, and knick-knacks. She welcomed us upstairs where the crew was waiting. After introductions, I caught a glimpse of the lights and equipment that were already in place in a couple of the bedrooms. Excitement and adrenaline spiked in my chest. Sharon showed us to another bedroom dedicated solely to racks and racks of wardrobe items–most of which Sharon had made herself! We put our bags down and went back into the large, open hall. Sharon asked me if it was ok to let the crew know about the surgery. (She had been one of the few people outside my family that I’d kept updated with everything.) Of course, it was fine with me. So she filled them in. Everyone nodded, their expressions a mixture of somberness, support, and curiosity. (I think they were wondering if I was actually ok to be there!) But in that moment, in a sort of “team huddle” in that upstairs hall, I felt so cared for, and I knew that I could do my job that day. I hadn’t had any doubts, but still, everyone’s support was undeniably comforting and encouraging.
Then, Sharon gave us an overview of what the day would look like and led us in prayer to kick things off. I was ready, focused, slightly nervous, and excited!
All of a sudden, it was time. Our first scene was in Milly and Kate’s bedroom. We were in costume, in position. Sound and camera were rolling, and Sharon was about to call action. I’ll never forget the stillness of the air and sense of anticipation in that split-second. Then, we were moving. It was surreal and wonderful.
Bethany and one of the PA’s, Crimson-Rose, helped me so much that day. They carried my bag around if I needed it and took turns helping me with careful costume changes. I still had two drains in place, but they were easy enough to hide beneath my clothing. I was sore and moved slowly, but it was nothing that a steady dose of Tylenol and lots water (as well as the pure delight of being on set!) throughout the day couldn’t ease. Also, I think Bethany and I were born to play sisters. 😉
I had so much fun on this set! Everyone was incredible to work with. Talent, kindness, focus, and hard work abounded. It’s hard to pick, but my favorite day on set was probably when we shot at the Historic Railpark in Bowling Green, KY. I had never seen a train like that in person. We got to explore inside and use the back part of the train as a dressing area. It was all so vintage and felt so real! Close to dusk, when the camera was rolling and steam was coming from underneath the train, the acting became very, very easy. We shot some beautiful, heart-wrenching scenes there. And in between takes, we had a little fun, too. 😉
Left pic: When you have a vintage train, you take these kinds of pics, of course! Right pic: Me and Mimi Sagadin, who played Joanna, my mother-in-law.
Before filming began, Sharon had asked me if I would mind if she told the film’s prayer group about what I was going through. At that point, I was slowly getting the news out, and even though I was still shy about it, I knew it would be comforting to have more people praying for me besides just my family and close friends. On one of our earlier shoots, one with lots of extras and additional cast, people kept approaching me to say they had been praying for me. They looked deep into my eyes as if they knew, and truly cared. It meant so much to me that I nearly cried. There was so much grace, so much supernatural strength that I could feel as a result of their prayers.
Some days were harder though. There were moments when I felt exhausted. One day, Mimi Sagadin (who plays Joanna, my mother-in-law), and I had some time in between our scenes. We were upstairs in “Kate and Milly’s bedroom,” sitting on the bed talking. Usually I’d be reviewing my lines for my next scene, but in that moment, I was feeling so emotional about the surgery. The shock had just hit me again. I was still getting used to talking about it, but she was so kind that all of the sudden I began crying and spilling my heart out. It felt so, so good to talk about it. I’m not sure why I bottled it up in the beginning, except it must have been some kind of coping or defense mechanism. She listened with such compassion and helped me sort through what I was feeling. It wasn’t often that I had those moments, but when I did, Mimi, Bethany, and Jesica Womack (who played my Aunt Thalia) were some of the most comforting people I could have asked for. They felt like actual family members, and I owe much of my earlier “emotional processing” to them. Sharon kept a constant close eye on me, too.
Thankfully, those emotional moments never interrupted my focus or ability to perform. Overall, I was happy and felt good. I was optimistic, hopeful, and thankful that it didn’t look like I would need chemo or anything. I believed I was going to be able to start moving forward right away, and being on that set was how I started doing just that. The doctors were about to change their minds, however, on what course of treatment they thought I would need. I had no idea what was coming up just after we wrapped the film.