An Opera Singer's Facial Cancer
And Life Transposed
REARRANGED tells of leaving the operatic stage for a starring role opposite the Big C. Bone cancer in my cheek ended my career as an opera singer and brought me face to face with mortality, disfigurement, the meaning and uses of beauty—and a lot of left over pieces.
A small corps of medical elites convened to excoriate my diseased bones with surgical wizardry and lethal toxins, and stayed on to restore me to myself through a brutal alchemy of kindness and titanium screws.
REARRANGED is a tale of letting go to hold on, of putting old pieces to new uses—and of the unlikely arrangements that make it all work out.
Coming 10/10/2023 from
By Kathleen Watt
READ AN EXCERPT:
I HAD AN UNNERVING KNOWLEDGE of much I couldn’t have known. Inexplicably, I was able to anticipate the nurses’ tasks. Somehow I “remembered” a sensation of intubation and managed secretions, comparing my present trach to prior experience. “The last time I had a trach...” insisted the impossible memory. I kept hunting for the source. It was maddening because I knew what I knew. . .
Advance Praise for REARRANGED:
Kathleen’s account of her experience with Osteogenic Sarcoma is beyond impressive. This is a very intimate portrayal. And it’s factual. It’s all in there. Anyone going through something like this will absolutely benefit from reading this beautifully written book.
Peter D. Costantino, MD, FACS | Brain and Spine Surgery of New York
Kathleen Watt has turned her harrowing experience as an opera singer diagnosed with facial bone cancer into a story that is fresh, gripping, and also remarkably entertaining. Her voice – smart, funny, and disarmingly forthright – makes this book shine. I find myself in awe of her sheer bravado and resilience in overcoming all odds to share her story and hard-won wisdom with all of us.
Helen Fremont | Award-winning author of national bestsellers The Escape Artist, (Gallery Books, 2020), and After Long Silence, (Delta,1999).
I am writing in praise of REARRANGED to testify that a facial-cancer memoir by an opera singer can be a gesamtkunstwerk. Kathleen Watt takes the reader through her vivid, painstaking (literally), occasionally self-mocking, excruciating, manic, ecstatic journey—from the discovery of her affliction, through an incessant procession of consultations, procedures, skin and bone grafts, ICU hallucinations, manic hopes, precipitous free-falls, disfigurements, and rough-edged healing— not to mention, as well, “the rest of life”. Kathleen Watt is an author who pushes through her epic to emerge with resolutions intact; and ever-grateful for her passion, so do we.
Neil Baldwin | Author of Martha Graham – When Dance Became Modern (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022).
What does it mean to be defaced: to have your neck, throat, nose, eye sockets, eyelids, cheeks, tongue, and teeth disfigured? A harrowing account of the toll taken by treatments of osteogenic sarcoma—told by a woman who brings the same grit to the ordeal that she exhibited in becoming a chorister in the Metropolitan Opera Company.
Susan Gubar | Professor Emerita at Indiana University, and Author of the “Living with Cancer” column for The New York Times online
Kathleen Watt’s Rearranged is a beautifully written memoir of her heart-wrenching battle with a rare facial cancer that derailed her singing career and her life. Her astonishing honesty in recounting the details of her journey — both medical and personal — was sometimes horrifying, sometimes humorous, but always truly inspirational.
Lori Laitman | Acclaimed Composer of operas, choral works, and exquisite art songs
The narrative is beautifully rendered and illuminates the profound uncertainties a cancer diagnosis engenders. The relationships Kathleen describes are each, in their own way, creative endeavors. REARRANGED honors the fragility, vulnerability and strength of the relationships that nourished her; with loved ones, with her professional caregivers, and to herself and fellow inhabitants in the kingdom of the sick. The memoir is funny, profoundly moving and leaves the reader gasping at the unflinching description of the treatments and setbacks Kathleen endures. It should be a must-read for anybody interested in the fortitude and generosity of the human spirit and how our identities adapt to illness—and for all doctors and professional caregivers.
Mark Gilbert, PhD | Portrait Artist, Professor of Medical Humanities, University of Nebraska, Omaha
In REARRANGED: An Opera Singer’s Facial Cancer and Life Transposed, Kathleen Watt perfectly captures the exhilaration and madcap excitement of life backstage at the Metropolitan Opera, where she was a member of the Extra Chorus. Her writing about her singer's life is so vivid and personal that when she discovers an ominous lump on her gum that turns out to be an aggressive facial cancer, it hits the reader hard. I’m bowled over by Watt’s bravery in having lived to tell this harrowing tale, and for sharing it all so candidly.
Amy Burton | Leading lyric soprano at New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, major opera companies in Europe, the UK, Japan and Israel, in recital and cabaret, and teaching at Juilliard and Mannes College of Music.
Kathleen Watt has written a brave and honest memoir about her battle with facial cancer, one that upended her career as an opera singer and her marriage, and required adapting to life with a permanent disfigurement. Rearranged is a fierce examination of our culture’s ever-present obsession with female beauty and the perils of our convoluted healthcare system. And yet, throughout these pages, you’ll also find moments of surprising lightness and humor, and a willingness to stay open to the possibility of a new version of joy.
Julie Metz | Author of the New York Times best selling memoir Perfection, and Eva and Eve
In her new book, REARRANGED, music writer and former classical singer Kathleen Watt writes of how her diagnosis of face cancer changed her life forever. Watt tells the unforgettable, often catastrophic story of a life rearranged by more than thirty surgeries over the course of ten years. With the odds repeatedly stacked against her, she affirms that warriors and heroes still walk amongst us.
Glenn Alpert | Life coach and former career tenor at the Metropolitan Opera Company
Clear-eyed curiosity and indefatigable effort propel Watt's memoir, a chilling tale of an opera singer who finds herself the recipient of osteogenic sarcoma in her mid-face. The removal of the tumor from the bones where sound resonates and where others see you as who you are, is followed by many years of reconstruction. Courage, loyalty, experts and determination seal the cracks of a well examined life. The result is a story told with grace, honesty, and the necessary humor needed to survive becoming, as quoted by the world's first essayist, Michel de Montaigne, one of “Those that we call monsters.”
Don Cummings | Author of Bent But Not Broken (Heliotrope Books, 2019).
In Kathleen Watt’s world of protracted illness and recovery, body-wrenching chemotherapy is seen as character-building, and humor as life-saving medicine. As an opera singer who once used her voice to entertain with resonant expression, Kathleen maintains this talent through her written words and inspiring stories of resilience and survival. This book is about what illness changes, but even more so, what remains.
Sara Arnell | Author of There Will Be Lobster - Memoir of a Midlife Crisis