By NATALIE SAYEWICH
Thursday, January 29, 2015
She speaks in “we”s.
“We have an appointment tomorrow.”
“We were at the hospital for 19 days.”
For the last year, Tommi Galaska’s “we” has often been her and her son, Reddick, 9, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last February — going to doctors’ offices and then to scans and blood tests, into the hospital and to surgery and then to chemotherapy and back again.
Her “we” has also come to refer to what she calls her second family — the people at the children’s hospital at Vidant Medical Center where she and Reddick have spent weeks at a time in the last year — doctors and nurses and hospital staff, the children and their families, and the mothers.
Galaska — a jazz teacher in East Carolina University’s dance department — created her latest piece, “The Lullaby,” with those mothers in mind. The piece is part of the school’s annual performance, “Dance 2015,” which opened Thursday and continues through Tuesday. It features eight dances that include ballet, contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, modern and tap.
“The Lullaby” has been one of the most challenging undertakings in Galaska’s career, both technically and emotionally.
“I’ve never used film or projection, ever, so that was a huge element. As far as that goes, it’s probably a bigger step for me than anything I’ve ever done. It’s definitely the most emotional thing I’ve ever done, and the most meaningful to me.
“I tried my best not to do this piece, but it’s where I was. I had to say it. I had to show it. I had to do that for the other moms. It’s just about all those mothers out there who struggle and who do this and how strong they are.”
The piece — jazz mixed with contemporary — features Megan Rhodes as the mother. Six others play the forces that cause the confusion, anger, fear, sadness and exhaustion as they carry and pull and drag her in every direction while she struggles to keep it together.
“It’s about a mother’s struggle with having a child in need,” Galaska said. “I tried to keep it open so the audience could relate their own stories to it, but I think it does have really strong elements of having a sick child.
To create the piece, Galaska went back through pictures and notes she had made of their journey, which began with a stuffy nose and antibiotics that mysteriously didn’t do the trick. Swollen lymph nodes were initially treated with steroids, which solved the problem but not the cause, and the swelling returned two weeks later.
“(The doctor) looked at it and said ‘wait just a minute,’” she said. “And he was gone forever. And I just knew. I just knew. I knew right then. I just knew, ‘He is going to tell me my child has lymphoma.’
“He came in and he said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ve made an appointment. I just talked to an oncologist,’ and I about threw up. He said, ‘Tomorrow I have you for a CT scan of the neck area and the oncologist wants to see you on Thursday.’”
Two days later, after reading the scan, the oncologist had Galaska’s son admitted on the spot, saying he had either lymphoma or leukemia.
“We never even left. I didn’t have anything with me,” she said. “They admitted him immediately and took the lymph node right then and there. We were in surgery by 4 o’clock.”
They spent that Thursday and Friday in the hospital and went home for the weekend while they waited on test results from the lymph node.
“Sunday they called me and said it was T-cell, non-Hodgkin lymphoblastic lymphoma,” she said, “and they said ‘We want you back here tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock.’
“We had surgery Tuesday and they immediately put in the port. He had chemo immediately.
“That’s what this piece is, it’s the journey of hearing, ‘you have either lymphoma or leukemia’ and the walk, walking into the hospital, and it all started — the whirlwind.
“You feel like your life is spinning around you — the way things were and the way you thought it was going to be, and then how things completely come to a halt and change. How you’re scared and how you’re trapped in four walls at the hospital. How you want to scream and cry and have a fit and how you can’t do any of those things because the priority is to make sure that your child is OK and that he feels safe.”
All the while, she said, she has battled with the dilemma of how to be a mom to her other two sons while they’re at home and she’s at the hospital.
Galaska pulled those emotions from her personal experience and chose Rhodes — a double major in dance and acting — to portray them.
“I chose her because I knew it would take an actress to be able to handle it,” Galaska said. “With her professional acting training, it was clearly the right choice. Not only is she a great dancer, but the acting element is something that was needed.”
She also spent time discussing her reasoning within the piece with all of the dancers.
“I pushed them into a place that at their age, they should not know anything about,” she said. “I’ve asked a lot of them. I continued to work when he was diagnosed, so they were informed throughout. It wasn’t really difficult to get them there (emotionally). They went with me. It has truly taken them into a place that’s new.”
Galaska brought Rhodes to the Vidant children’s hospital outpatient facility, where she and her son spend a considerable amount of their time, a place that seems almost idyllic from her description of it, except for the reason for being there.
“I did take my lead dancer there, just so she could see,” she said. “I wanted her to see that this is where we live. The rooms are beautiful. The nurses are fabulous. It’s very spacious. There are huge windows that you can see outside.
“Every day, I’d open those windows and say, ‘That’s where we want to get. That’s where we want to get. We want to get back out there.’”