Lorna Luft: Singer, Actress, Writer… Cancer Survivor
Lorna Luft has basically done it all. She’s been an acclaimed performer on stage, film and television; a recording artist; an Emmy-nominated producer; and a best-selling author. Recently, she added another label to her resume – cancer survivor. On August 24, 2013, Luft returns to the stage for the first time since battling Stage 2 breast cancer. She’ll be performing a special show at Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ. The night will be filled with songs by the composers who have meant the most to her career. Culture Vultures had the opportunity to speak with Lorna --the daughter of Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft-- about the last few months and her upcoming show in New Jersey.
Jersey Arts: You’ve had a pretty rough year, how are you doing now?
Lorna Luft: It has been a rough year. I was diagnosed in January with Stage 2 breast cancer, had surgery in February, and started chemotherapy in April. I finished my chemotherapy six weeks ago and I can’t wait to come to New Jersey!
JA: We’re honored to be your first show back. You’ve been constantly performing all of your life, did you miss being away from the stage during the last few months?
LL: You know something? When you are diagnosed… when you have a situation where it feels like you’ve been hit in the face by George Foreman, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson all at once – everything before your diagnosis that you thought was bigger than the reality of you just sort of goes away. It’s all about getting well and finding the right doctors, trusting them, listening to them, and then just following what you know is the right thing to do for yourself. I was so lucky that I had that.
And this is not a new story. There are a lot of women who go through this, have gone through it and will go through it. I’m just now a member of a club that I really don’t want any new members.
JA: How difficult was the chemo for you? It seems like everybody has a slightly different response to it.
LL: Chemotherapy these days is OK. It really needs a good press agent because chemotherapy is not what it was even 10 years ago. They have come so far in being able to tailor chemotherapy for your diagnosis, your cancer, and your body type. They have so many fantastic drugs for the side effects, but there are side effects that they’re not going to have anything for like hair loss and all of that. It was hard, but it wasn’t the black hole of Calcutta… it wasn’t a walk in the park either.
People just hear the word chemotherapy and they begin to panic. They get so distraught because they only hear one word – until they get educated on what it is and how far its come. So, I did that and one thing that all of my doctors said is incredibly true and honest. They said, “You have no idea how much your attitude goes to help you get well.” And that’s what I did. I just decided, along with my doctors, that I was going to have the greatest outlook that I possibly, possibly could while I was going through all of that, and it helped. Did I get angry? Yeah. Did I get sad? Yeah. I went through everything that was normal to go through. One thing it did for me at the end of the day was it took everything that I thought was so overwhelming and so huge and so astronomically big in my life and put it on the head of a pin.
I had a great support system, but, at the end of the day, when you’re diagnosed with any disease you’re alone because you alone are going through it.
JA: Your support system wasn’t just comprised of family and friends; it was rather heartwarming to see the thousands of well wishes you received from fans on Facebook.
LL: That was really difficult for me in the sense that I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t read them at the time. One of my best friends was with me at one of my chemo sessions and he said, “Have you been on your Facebook page?” I said no, and then he started reading all of these wonderful and loving comments to me. I said, “OK, stop”, because I wanted to write back to each and every one and I knew I couldn’t do that.
I gave updates on Facebook after each one of my treatments and I thanked everyone. I wish I could have thanked them all individually, but I knew that I couldn’t. I am just so incredibly humbled and grateful for everyone writing to my page. It was overwhelming and wonderful. You don’t realize it because you go into a bubble when you’re diagnosed with cancer. You go into a bubble and everything revolves around that. So, when I would read the comments of people who had gone through this, people who had just come out of it, and people who had had it years ago – I thought, “OK, they got through it. It’s OK.” They gave me inspiration. They gave me the will to say it’s alright; I can deal with all of this. If they could do it, I can do it.
JA: Let’s talk about the show, is this a continuation of the “Lorna’s Living Room” type of show?
LL: Yes. It’s an intimate, personal show. The show is constructed around all of the composers that I have been able to work with over a long period of time and some of the composers that truly were trailblazers for women. We do a whole tribute to Dorothy Fields, who was an extraordinary woman. She was the first woman lyricist. I do a tribute to Burt Bacharach and Hal David who gave me my first job. And there’s a tribute to Rodgers and Hart—I was able to do one of their big revivals once.
The show is a combination of all of the composers and lyricists that I have had a personal connection to. I’m honored to do this show because no one walks out saying “I’ve never heard that song.”
JA: Is there a particular song or two that is most emotional to you? Something that has the strongest connection to your career?
LL: Well honey, we’re going to find out, aren’t we!
JA: Keep them guessing, eh?
LL: It’s true! There are going to be times – all of these songs are really taking a brand new sort of twist on my life and how I’ve done them before and what they meant and what they mean now.
JA: At some other shows you’ve had a few special guests; do you plan on any guests for the Red Bank show?
LL: I don’t think so. We did that at Birdland (NYC)… I sort of want this show to be me and the audience. I’m going to be selfish!
When I was sitting there, going through my last treatment, I just kept thinking, “I get to play New Jersey in August. Let’s just get this over with. I’ve got to go back and do what I love to do more than anything.” And I really feel that with an audience. I can’t wait. That motivation has been better than any kind of therapy that you get mentally or physically. As my husband kept saying to me, “This is just temporary.” And I’m grateful it was temporary. I know that people in that audience will know someone who has gone through it, will go through it and are going through it. And guess what? I’m standing on that stage!
For tickets and other information on Ms. Luft's August 24 performance, please visit Two River Theater's website.