Caris Corfman : How an Actress Reclaims Her Life by Expressing Herself

“Memory for an actor, it’s essentially the trust you will remember…that you are trusting the fact that you don’t think about the lines—that you trust the fact that when you open your mouth it will come out. Your brain does know it.”

These words, spoken by playwright/comedian Lewis Black in the documentary Caris’ Peace, refer to his friend and actress Caris Corfman, who, at age 43, suffered a brain tumor which radically changed the course of her life. The surgeries to remove the tumor left her bereft of the actor’s main tool—the ability to make new memories, i.e. learn lines. The documentary, made by Corfman’s friends and colleagues filmmaker Gaylen Ross and actress Rebecca Nelson, is a first-person account of memory loss which shows one woman’s extraordinary journey to reclaim her life through her perseverance, talents and the profession she loved.

Black knew Corfman from the Yale University School of Drama, which the two attended. Upon graduation, Corfman went on to have one of those dream careers, acting on Broadway in such productions as the original Amadeus, on TV’s Law & Order and in the movies.

What began as headaches, weight fluctuation, missed periods and problems memorizing lines reached crisis point when Corfman fainted in the subway on her way to her friend Rebecca’s son’s first birthday. An MRI revealed that Corfman had a suprachiasmatic craniopharyngioma, according to the film’s medical consultant, Johns Hopkins neurologist Barry Gordon, MD, PhD. This tumor, although theoretically benign, was right near Corfman’s pituitary gland. This could explain Corfman’s weight gain and fluctuating periods, since the pituitary gland is the control center for the body’s major endocrine glands. The chiasm part of suprachiasmatic refers to the optic chiasm, where the nerves from the eye join and diverge. As the tumor grew, it most likely affected the free flow of cerebral-spinal fluid in Corfman’s brain, which resulted in the stabbing headaches. So although the tumor itself was benign, its location was deadly.

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