The past year has featured a theme of separation, finding us relegated to our homes and trading gatherings and vacations for Zoom calls and long drives. But for those willing to think outside the box, the possibility for connection is still available—and essential. Actress Angela Trimbur, who has appeared in shows like The Good Place and is the founder of the now defunct L.A. City Municipal Dance Squad, is one such creative, offering a virtual space for breast cancer survivors to share, emote, and find understanding in an era where isolation is a mental and physical reality. “It has become a really crucial outlet for all of us who are left feeling a bit misunderstood most of the time—or pretty much all the time,” says Trimbur. “You can’t describe what chemo or losing these body parts feels like to someone who hasn’t been through it. It’s truly insane.”
Since her diagnosis in 2018, Trimbur has endured 16 rounds of chemo, two rushed egg freezings, a double mastectomy, four reconstructive surgeries (the last of which was an explant followed by a surgery that utilized fat from her thighs to create a small A cup), and a preemptive oophorectomy due to her BRCA gene. “That one was very, very emotional because I’ve fantasized about pregnancy since I was a teen. When I was diagnosed, one of the first questions I asked my doctor was ‘Can I still breastfeed?’ and when they said, ‘No,’ I just bawled because it meant so much to me,” says Trimbur. “So I did some rituals.” Said ritual centered on friends bringing items that they associated with childhood or motherhood, explaining their choice, and then adorning Trimbur’s ovaries with flowers and whispering messages to her future child. It’s exactly this sort of vulnerable sharing that inspired the actress to start hosting breast cancer support groups on the app Marco Polo.
Trimbur has been a fan of Marco Polo—an on-your-own-time, private video messaging app—since early in her diagnosis, asking friends and family to record themselves dancing, telling stories, or simply talking about their days as a means of staying connected. “So a couple of months into the pandemic when I went into my oncology center for my monthly shot, I saw how like tumbleweed-empty and quiet the chemo center was, and it hit me that no one can have anyone with them while they’re in the chemo chair,” says Trimbur. “And I just thought back to how supported I felt and how that would terrify me, personally, if I had to be there alone. I wanted to find a way to give support to people who are by themselves in the chair.”
“I also had some friends that were close to me say some things that really hurt about my posttreatment feelings,” says Trimbur. “It was kind of a strange feeling to realize that continued empathy and understanding doesn’t really exist like, years after. It’s almost like once your hair grows back people expect you to have moved on from the confusing heaviness.” Trimbur reached out to Marco Polo in August to ask about starting a support group, and the team helped her set it up. Things grew quickly from there, with a 40-member group evolving to eight groups of 20, which Trimbur curates herself based on each survivor’s specific experience. Participants are invited to record videos at their leisure, rather than having to sign on at a specific time to “meet.”