The C-word Shouldn’t Mean Being Serious as a Heart Attack, ‘Chemo Barbie’ Returns to the Whitefire

Photos by Monique A. LeBleu
Heather Keller at Fringe Central during her run at Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017, Wednesday, June 21, 2017.

Told that she had a 98% chance of a cure rate, as of December 2017, actress Heather Keller was given a cancer-free diagnosis after a near two-year battle. And she’s so excited, she’ll even show you her breasts!

Keller’s Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017 Encore Producers Award winning “Chemo Barbie: My Lady Bits’ Journey Through Breast Cancer” opens again for one night only at the Whitefire Solofest 2018 on Sunday, February 4, 2018.

In a uniquely funny show about fighting breast cancer … yes, I said funny … the Real Housewives of Theatre West actress and marathon runner Keller takes the audience along on a one-hour ride through her two-year journey, treatment, endurance, and recovery.

Directed by Whitefire Theatre’s solo artist instructor Jessica Lynn Johnson of Soaring Solo, Keller plays 25 characters in the 60 minute “Chemo Barbie.” The show went to the Outdoor Voices Festival directly from the 2017 run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival once the Encore show was completed.

Openly and boldly sharing in a cathartic series of vignettes, Chemo Barbie takes you on an hour-long journey that will make you laugh, cry and take inventory of all the people and joys in your life, and all without yanking too hard on your heartstrings.

Per Keller’s bio, the show was created using her Upright Citizens Brigade and Groundlings Sketch writing and character creating skills, and the show is mostly derived from her meticulously well-documented experience in her YouTube video journals, “Keep Abreast W/ Heather: A Cancer Survivor’s Story.”

Also using video clip portions from “Keep Abreast W/ Heather”, Keller doesn’t just outline her journey but highlights every equally absurd, excruciating and sublime moment.

The vivacious and effervescent Keller covers everything from her initial diagnosis, a painful – and mostly annoying – drug port insertion, chemo drugs, body changes, fatigue-fighting, acting auditions, a fickle industry (as well as fickle friends), coping with loss and knowing real love.

The show is bold, honest, and blunt about breast exams, frank discussions with strangers, breast size, nipple sensitivity, stubborn pubic hair, and the tricky and “chilling” process to keep a most valuable asset for Keller as a working actress – her hair.

As in her videos, it isn’t just in the wanting to live that fuels her fight, but the knowing that she can and will beat it. Keller details the devoted and tenacious help by her husband Brian McCarthy, and the support of friends, family, and the medical staff throughout. She details the lengthy “cold pack” process that was necessary to keep her hair follicles from succumbing to her chemotherapy drugs, Taxol and Herceptin, and after her runs.

During chemo treatments, Keller and McCarthy prep frozen head caps specially designed to protect the hair during treatments. Four weeks into chemo she was running and doing Barre method and yoga. In April of 2016, Keller ran the 5 K music run at the L.A. Fairplex after 8 rounds of chemo.

In order to not lose my hair, I drench my head while running and right after,” Heather said in a May 2016 YouTube vlog following her run.

Running has helped me stave off the symptoms of chemo,” she said in a video, where she ran three times a week during chemo. “Some doctors thought I wouldn’t be able to run, some doctors weren’t sure. But I’ve kind of surprised them all with the amount of running that I am doing and that I have been able to run. I’m very fortunate to be able to run during chemotherapy.”

Although the first three months were too frightening for Keller to chronicle, her vlog has nearly a hundred videos and thousands of views with active engagement by those also fighting cancer who’ve lent their own experiences to her story.

Through this process, Keller meant to not only document the experience for others going through it, but also for posterity, as she and her husband hope to have a family.

My kids will have them,” Keller said in a video on her vlogs. “They’ll know their mom.”

Post-Solofest 2018, Keller plans to take the show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.

“Chemo Barbie: My Lady Bit’s Journey Through Breast Cancer” is at the Whitefire Theatre at 13500 Ventura Blvd. In Sherman Oaks this Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018 at 7 p.m.


About Monique A. LeBleu

Monique A. LeBleu is a writer, photographer, videographer, and shameless foodie and wineaux. A love of film history and a background in film production, post-production, and film theory provide unique insights into her movie reviews. As well, a background in technical theater fuels her passion on all-things theater. As a foodie, living in the ever-growing and diverse culinary landscape that is the City of Los Angeles feeds her never-ending pursuit of the perfect comfort food—the world's best Mac n' Cheese!
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