I call myself a “thriver” as well as a “survivor”. I’ve been through 27 surgeries, a coma, sexual abuse, a decade of medical trauma, and all of the setbacks and frustrations that go along an unexpected detour.
The traumatic events that have come into my life have enhanced my life, enriching each moment with a deeper sense of gratitude, a broader scope of faith, and a stronger force of resilience.
I’m telling you my “sob-story” not to shock you or show what I’ve been through, but to share with you what inspired me to reach out to my world through my art, my music, my inspiration, and my passion.
My life is quite bigger than a few medical adventures, actually. I’ve just gotten married, I wrote a one-woman show, I’m half-way through college, I have an amazing family, and I’ve been to Disney World 22 times. (This is very important.)
I grew up doing musical theatre. I’ve always loved singing, dancing and acting – it was my way of connecting with the world.
I also had your stereotypical Jewish family where we invite
a ton of people for every Jewish holiday and there is no end to the
feast. I was accepted into the musical theatre program at the
University of Michigan, and was on track to do musical theatre for the
rest of my life, which I lived and breathed. So a week before my
senior prom, it was the second night of Passover and we had a huge
seder. Afterwards I was in tremendous pain – and I never get sick.
We drove the ER for an x-ray, and apparently, on the way there, my cheeks
puffed up from so much internal pressure building. When I got out of
the car, I collapsed, a surgeon was called, they put me out, and
apparently when they cut me open, my stomach burst to the top of the
OR from so much pressure. Possibly due to a blood clot (but no one
really knows for sure), my stomach literally exploded.
I’m not a doctor, but this wonderful documentary sums it up quite well.
Of course, this was 13 surgeries in. What I didn’t know was that I’d spend six of the next ten years unable to eat or drink anything at all.
In spite of everything, I refused to be a victim.
Instead, I just kept going – a month after being discharged from
the ICU I got the lead of Nancy in Oliver, I taught nursery school,
launched my own chocolate business, learned how to paint, fell in love
with mixed media as a powerful meant to tell my story, and mounted
three professional art shows of my own work, learned
karate, got my yoga teaching certification, starred
in various musicals, wrote my autobiography, a self-help novel, and
just finished my second year of college at 28 years old.
I discovered painting as a way to pass time in the hospital. It soon turned into a obsession, and my art therapy marathons were my way of connecting to myself and finding an anchor in the uncertainty.
For my art and my spirit, I was honored on the TODAY show with Kathie Lee and Hoda a few years ago and met David Friedman, a wonderful man and accomplished composer.
For two years, I worked with him on a concept I had always wanted to do – putting
together a cabaret act. However, it turned into much more than this.
Over the years without food, drink, people, or sense of isolation, I
coped by journaling thousands of pages in my room.
I put those
together with songs I had written, as well as known songs, and
realized that this was a perfect way of telling my story. This turned
into my one-woman autobiographical musical “Gutless & Grateful” that I
directed, performed, and wrote.
I first did it at the Triad in NYC in October 2012 – this was my first real “coming out” to the world – the
first time I had shared my story in my own words, and it inspired so
may people which was the biggest reward for me. It was nominated for
a Broadway World award for best cabaret debut.
A few more medical setbacks followed, and it was difficult to always keep my spirits up.
The permanent damage that my 27th surgery had done did not take away the person I’ve become.
With nothing to lose, I made three big decisions:
I applied to college
In my hospital gown and IVS, I called two theatres and booked another run of “Gutless & Grateful”
And, while I’ve never dated in my life, I was so lonely and recovering from my surgery – I set up a dating profile on line.
Those 3 decisions changed the course of my life
- I just finished my second year at Hampshire College
- I’ve been performing Gutless & Grateful for the past three years and am taking it to Kansas City this September!
- The day I signed up for online dating, an adorable guy named Brandon sent me a message. Four months later he proposed, and well…
I ended up with an ostomy after my 27th surgery – and I’ve had quite a couple over the years. But I never knew how many other amazingly strong young, vivacious people there were out there doing amazing things – people who just “happened” to have ostomies as well. And I was honored to be the Eastern Regional Recipient of the Great Comebacks Award for being an ostomate doing courageous things.
Life took an unexpected detour, which made me question everything at
first, but now I am starting to see all the puzzle pieces come
together, and I am truly grateful.
“They say that everything happens for a reason. But that’s not always
true. Sometimes, you have to make it happen. I think
about my old life, and I miss it. I miss the simplicity and
straightforwardness of it. I look at old pictures and I miss the
innocence, the joy, the carefreeness in my eyes. I can’t be 13 again
but I can be the best 27 I can. But sometimes I wonder what life
would be like if this never had happened. This is not the path that I
planned for myself – but does anyone’s life ever work out exactly how
they plan it? I was led astray, and hurt, and betrayed, and
dehumanized, taken apart and put back together, but differently. But
my passion never went away. I kept my hunger alive. Now I know that
my role in life is still to be that same performer I always wanted to
be when I was 13. But now with an even greater gift to give. A story
So why am I telling you this?
What I’ve been through is tough, but everyone goes through tough times. We all need a way to cope with everything from missing a train to the loss of a loved one.
Victor Frankl once said that suffering is relative, and I agree. We all have something to “heal” from, and nobody is less deserving of “healing” than anyone else.
I believe that healing is a positive, joyful, healthy experience, just like a snake sheds it’s skin. It’s a natural process just as growing, evolving, learning and changing out.
Through my writing, my art, my show, my experience, I hope to show others the power within themselves. We have the power to create hope, happiness, strength.
So go on and MAKE things happen for a reason.
Creativity isn’t just arts and crafts. Creativity is a way of seeing the world.
So harness the power of your own creativity and create the change you would like to see in the world (thank you Ghandi) and in YOU.
But of course, I can help you with that. I am also a motivational speaker, I perform my show anywhere from theatres, cabaret clubs, hospitals, fundraisers, support groups, conferences, and anywhere you can thin of where inspiration might be needed, and I also sell my art on Etsy – with more in the works. So there’s my shameless plug.
But if you really want shameless, this is pretty shameless.
Oh, but as my high school teacher once told me, I have no word economy. So here’s the cliff notes:
Amy Oestreicher is an actress, musician, composer, dancer, writer, artist, yogi, foodie, and general lover of life.
A musical theatre performer since childhood, Amy’s favorite roles include Anne Frank (Diary of Anne Frank), Eponine (Les Miserables), Maria (Sound of Music), Nancy (Oliver), Marta (Company) and Baker’s Wife (Into The Woods).
At the age of 18, Amy fell into a coma for months, and once she came to, she resolved that she would never become the “patient” or “victim” that her medical circumstances wanted her to be. She simply allowed the unexpected detour to force her to investigate new productions and hobbies – she started a chocolate business, learned to cook and authored a food blog. She taught herself to paint and created mixed media acrylics, and put up three art shows within one year. She learned karate, tai chi and yoga, as well as teaching nursery school and assisting Biology classes. She wrote a one-act play, a graphic novel, started her autobiography, and accomplished her biggest dream to date, which was to tell her story in the medium she’s always loved best – the theatre. In 2012, she wrote and starred in “Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast” – a one-woman musical about her unique journey. After being nominated for a Broadway World Award for “Best Cabaret Debut”, she reprised her show the following year at Stage 72 (NYC), The Bijou Theatre (CT) and Barrington Stage Company (MA) as part of William Finn’s Cabaret Series.
Throughout the ups and downs of 27 surgeries, Amy has managed to live a fulfilling life and has kept her spirit alive, always hungry for more knowledge, joy, and experience. She prides herself of ending every night with a list of what she’s grateful for. Amy is currently studying performance, visual arts and playwriting at Hampshire College.