Kathleen Watt, whose treatment for osteosarcoma involved a decade-long process of facial reconstruction, shares her story in the memoir “Rearranged.”
For opera singer Kathleen Watt, a life-changing cancer journey began during an otherwise routine trip to her family dentist.
In January of 1997 when Watt was 43 years old, the examination of a bump in the gumline at the back of her upper jaw eventually led to Watt receiving a diagnosis of the bone cancer osteosarcoma, which would be followed by treatment that included chemotherapy and a decade-long process of facial reconstruction.
“A small corps of medical elites convened to excoriate my diseased bones with surgical wizardry and lethal toxins,” as Watt described on her website, “and stayed on to restore me to myself through a brutal alchemy of kindness and titanium screws.”
Watt had recently begun her third season in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City when she received her diagnosis.
Approximately 1,000 new cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed in the United States each year, and approximately only half of those cases are among adults, according to the American Cancer Society. Osteosarcomas account for approximately 2% of childhood cancers, “but they make up a much smaller percentage of adult cancers,” the American Cancer Society reported.
“I think it's common for people who are facing catastrophic illness or in a period of illness that you enter it thinking, ‘This is going to be a hiatus in my life, this is going to be something I'll get through and then I'll get back to my life,’” Watt told CURE®. “If you have a short illness or short, dramatic catastrophe and get it taken care of and you're done with it, it's easy to consider that a hiatus and then you get back to everything.
“I think that the fact that my definitive reconstruction was so protracted over so many years, things kept going wrong, things kept not working, or they would work but not come to complete fruition, (it) was just never definitive, and kept me in a limbo for this long, long trajectory. And I had to think change my thinking from the fact that this was a hiatus or some kind of blank space that would (be) taken out of the flow of my life to a feeling that that this is part of life. Long or short, you're on a train that's taking you through your life, it's a view (that) is part of the landscape that you traveled through on the vehicle of your own energy that propels you (with) the propulsion of life along a track through a landscape which is going to change from catastrophe to joy to resolution to discovery, (it) is all one ride.”
Watt shares her story in her new memoir, “Rearranged: An Opera Singer’s Facial Cancer and Life Transposed,” which is set to be released on Oct. 10 by Heliotrope Books. That same day, she returns to the stage for a cross-country book tour launching at P&T Knitwear in New York City. (For a full list of tour dates and more information on “Rearranged,” visit kathleenwatt.com.)
“In the years since I was onstage all the time, I really did not notice how much I had retreated into my naturally shy disposition, content to express myself through my kids’ Halloween or Spirit Week costumes, etc., avoiding the camera myself,” Watt said. “Then, in the selfie-revolution, and during the pandemic when everyone in the world took to Zoom, I felt myself shrinking from being seen on screen, becoming hyper-aware of my facial difference, such as it is. The ramp-up to this book tour has forced me to get off the dime, get over myself and just show up. I’m reminded of the time-worn advice to young singers, that no one in the audience has come to watch you be frightened, nervous or apologetic. They show up because they want to buy what you’re selling. They don’t want to see you be nervous or apologetic; they expect to see you succeed. They show up and pay for a ticket because they intend to be moved by what you have to offer.
“This live book tour has required me to call up my performer chops and dust them off, because honestly, I think this cancer journey is actually a success story that people are going to want to hear, and I am privileged to be able to tell.”
In this episode of CURE’s “Cancer Horizons” podcast, Watt speaks about the importance of remaining present during treatment and how the notes she and her loved ones took during her cancer journey resulted in “Rearranged” decades later.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.