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Petaluman performs to empower others

Petaluman Christina Ingenito has spent her entire life serving others, and when the licensed clinical social worker was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, she found a way to turn her trauma into a work of art that she hopes will inspire women who are undergoing similar struggles.

A routine mammogram last year revealed that Ingenito had Stage 1 breast cancer, but she was reassured that it was “the good kind of cancer.” Within three weeks, she underwent surgery for a lumpectomy and endured 33 rounds of radiation – an ordeal for which she said she was utterly unprepared and left her feeling vulnerable, raw and overwhelmed.

“I slipped down into the darkest place I have known,” said Ingenito, a clinician and writer who has penned and performed other solo shows locally.

Coupling her own experience with cancer and her background in social work, she wrote a one-woman show “We Interrupt this Life to Bring You…A Collision of Catastrophes or is it a Course Correction,” a performance that’s “about the three words none of us wanna hear.”

She’s staged the piece in other cities, but she’s bringing the original work to Petaluma for the first time with two outdoor performances at the Moj San Gift & Gallery at 5 p.m. Sept. 24 and Oct. 1. She’s also leading a writing workshop she’s developed for women with breast cancer in the city.

“I want to give voice to that darkness and show that I have come out the other side,” said Ingenito, who after 10 months is just beginning to tell her story.

She said she’s been “so humbled by the experience” and feels she has something to offer women who are going through similar trials.

Born and raised in New York, Ingenito received her undergraduate degree in women’s studies from SUNY Oneonta and moved to Petaluma in the mid-1980s. She went on to earn a master’s degree in social work from Fresno State University and began working with Hospice of Petaluma. Though she had a private practice for 15 years, she found herself returning to her work at Hospice, and she even spent seven years in Hawaii at Hospice of Hilo as a social worker from 2006 to 2013.

“Sort of like Petaluma, Hospice has been my life work - it’s home,” said the longtime therapist who returned to her favorite town three years ago, and once again went back to work with Hospice in a per diem capacity.

Given her years of work with Hospice and bereavement counseling, everyone Ingenito had ever known with a cancer diagnosis had died. The realization that people lived with cancer and that multiple resources were available to them was a huge revelation to her. However, she also learned that recovery and healing took much longer than she anticipated.

“It’s a process,” noted Ingenito who eschews words like battle, fight, and journey.

Instead, she realized that the creative process was integral to her ability to move through all of it. She cites the works of Mary Oliver, Rumi and David White as invaluable during her darkest hours.

Ingenito, who turns 60 this month and says she’s wrapped up active treatment for her cancer, points out that an important part of the healing process also includes awareness of boundaries. In her case, she is keenly aware that working in a bereavement capacity with those dying of cancer is something she will do when, in her words, she becomes fully contained.

That said, she is working again and notes that she feels closer to her clients as a result of her life-changing experience.

“I’m showing up differently - the distance between us is gone now,” she said as she shook her head of red curls, and laughingly pointed out that she has never defined herself by so many things before.

(Contact Tanya Henry at argus@arguscourier.com)

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