Losing my aunt to pancreatic cancer changed everything. I didn’t know how much I loved her until I couldn’t tell her anymore.
My family is not big on emotion. They tend to make jokes to deal with difficult times. We’re big on love, but I am not sure how good we are at telling each other. So, I never really told my aunt how much she meant to me.
When I was a kid, she was my favorite aunt because she was always dressed in something shiny—she loved sequins—or anything bright and sparkling. She loved attention. And, with all the bling she’d wear, I was going to give it to her—What kid doesn’t appreciate shiny things?
Sherry Peterson was a star in our family. The heartbreaking thing was that no one else ever got the chance to know it.
My aunt loved the arts. As a young woman in the midst of the bustling music scene of Detroit in the 1960s, she danced and sang in various nightclubs throughout the city. Later in her life, she wrote a book, completed several poems and wrote a play. But, she never got the momentum going to publish any of her work.
As an artist myself— I write and perform—that seems like the saddest thing in the world. Losing someone in your life is hard. But, knowing that they never got to see their dreams come true is crushing.
After spending time at Detroit’s incubator for innovation and entrepreneurship, Tech Town, however, I decided I wanted my aunt’s legacy to be as sparkling as I remember her as a little girl. I didn’t want to remember her as an “artist whose dreams went unrealized.” I wanted the people who never got the chance to meet her to know how wonderful she was.
Sherry might not have been a famous playwright, but she was the best grandmother. Her grandchildren, my cousins, were blessed to have her. She loved them with every fiber of her being and whenever I, or anyone for that matter, talked to her she would talk about those kids, endlessly. She loved kids and kids loved her right back.
Her life and the encouragement of the professionals at Tech Town inspired me to find a way to honor her memory in addition to the entrepreneurial pursuits I have been chasing.
I came up with an idea for a volunteer program that I named “Shakespeare Against Cancer.”
On October 23, 2012 I was able to present my first production for the program at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. I coordinated four local actors to visit children in the Oncology department and we presented a 15-minute vignette based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” When we were done with our performance, we passed out coloring books and crayons to the kids donated by my amazingly supportive family and friends.
We are currently working on our second event with, hopefully, more to come in the future.
The morning of the performance, I sat in the waiting room of the hospital and I thought of my aunt, and the fact that she never got to produce any of her work. That isn’t the case anymore; she inspired the best performance I have ever been involved with in my entire life. And, I know if she knew about “Shakespeare Against Cancer” she would smile and, as always, she would sparkle.