North East Connected

Performing Arts student says the show must go on despite cancer diagnosis

“I didn’t want my life to become focused on the fact that I’ve got cancer because there are so many parts to who I am”

For University of Sunderland student Brogan Rigby nothing can stand in the way of her pursuing her acting dream – not even a cancer diagnosis.

In January this year, the 20-year-old noticed a change in one of her moles, which she then had checked by her GP. Less than a month later, she was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Brogan, who is in her second year studying a Performing Arts degree, described how it felt like “the world started to move in slow motion” when she was told the news – but her fighting spirit soon kicked in, and she has refused to let the diagnosis stop her living life to the full.

While having regular chemotherapy, Brogan has chosen to carry on attending classes at the University and she has even performed in not one – but four shows, including Sister Act at the city’s newest arts venue.

The feel-good comedy came to The Fire Station for two nights last month and was the first musical production to be performed at the new state of the art £12 million auditorium, which opened in December last year.

Brogan said: “I didn’t want my life to become focused on the fact that I’ve got cancer because there are so many parts to who I am.

“Working towards doing a show is motivation for me. When I’m in rehearsals I don’t sit and think about the fact I’ve got cancer, I’m not focusing on anything else but the show.

“For me, it’s been really nice to look back on the shows I’ve been in since having the cancer diagnosis and think – you’ve got through that, so you’re going to get to the end of this, you’re going to get through it.”

Brogan has also praised her fellow students as well as staff at the University for supporting her during the difficult days.

“Especially in Performing Arts, you feel like you are part of a family,” she said.

“There is actually a line in Sister Act where Deloris says, “I’ve got my sisters by my side” and that really stuck with me throughout rehearsals because if I’ve been having a bad day, there are people I can go to.”

Inspired by a line the Sister Act song Take Me To Heaven (Reprise) – “shake your pockets to the beat and toss whatever you have into the offering basket” – third year Performing Arts students Deborah Taylor-Smith, Joe Rigo and Nick Thompson came up with the idea of sending a collection plate into the audience during the performance to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

In just two nights they raised more than £600.

Deborah, 39, who played the lead the role of Deloris, said: “Brogan is a hero, a super trooper as Abba would call her!

“No matter what is going on in her life, she is still getting in there and doing exactly what everyone else is doing.”

Joe, 21, said: “Sister Act brought us all closer together and it was made even more special by being able to raise money for such a good cause.

“I think it’s amazing that we’ve been able to give something back to Brogan and the wider community.”

Nick, 26, added: “It just shows the generosity of the people of Sunderland, especially with the hardship everyone is going through at the moment.”

On how she feels about the fundraiser, Brogan said: “When I realised how much had been raised, I honestly sat there and cried because it means so much knowing how generous people are.

“Thank you to everyone that donated. It means a huge deal, not just to me but for everyone going through cancer treatment.”

Rachel Emms, Programme Leader for Performing Arts at the University of Sunderland, said: “From the outset, even before the actual diagnosis, Brogan has been so positive. Her ability to keep moving forward and engage with her studies is nothing short of inspirational and I think being here amongst all of her friends with lots going on has been a distraction.

“The option for her to be assessed differently or to take time out will always be available but Brogan has made it clear that she wants to stay involved – it’s brilliant.”

The University of Sunderland is supporting MadeAtUni: Creative Sparks, a national campaign to showcase the creative talent produced by UK universities and encourage the Government to promote and support the importance of creativity and creative courses.

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