Piper Kilman and her mother, Aimee, draw inspiration from each other.
For the past 10 years, Piper – an Uptown resident and a junior at The Chicago Academy for the Arts – has watched her mother battle the breast cancer that has spread to hips and other bones. As her mom lost her hair, Piper shaved her head in solidarity.
“I don’t know how many teenage girls who would shave their hair,” Aimee said of her 16-year-old daughter. “She’s always asking for updates on my health. She’s why I fight so hard every day.”
Piper, who’s concentrating on Theatre at The Academy, said taking the stage helps her deal with the emotions of watching her mom, who was first diagnosed when Piper was 6 years old, face the disease head on.
“She’s just so incredibly strong,” Piper said. “I have used theatre as an escape from all the hard-hitting realities that I deal with on a daily basis.”
Piper was born for the stage. Her father, Buzz Kilman, is a well-known radio personality who also is a talented blues musician. Her uncles, aunt and grandmother have all been in bands or on stage, performing at some time in their lives. Even as a 5-year-old on her dad’s radio shows, Piper would do impressions of Jesse Jackson, Elvis Presley and Hannibal Lecter. She became completely obsessed when she was 6 and attended an entertainment theatre summer camp. Her mom said that, “after one day she was hooked.”
“Piper’s artistic side has been her foremost feature since she was a toddler,” Buzz said. “She was surrounded by musicians and instruments and cold not stop trying to play, sing, dance and be as entertaining as possible.”
Piper attended public schools through freshman year, but transferred to The Academy because she wanted to hone her craft and be around other talented teen artists. She knew The Academy was the right fit on the first day.
“Immediately, I realized I would never feel out of place here,” she said.
Aimee have relished watching Piper mature as a person and actress, especially as the cancer has impacted the family’s live so drastically. After she was diagnosed in the spring of 2007, Aimee had a lumpectomy, radiation and spent five years on a hormone blocker called tamoxifen. The cancer was in remission for a year but returned in 2013 in Aimee’s bones. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, Stage IV, and her treatment consisted of chemo that she said has been “pretty tolerable.”
“Seeing what she has gone through really just inspires me to be like her and be strong for the people around me,” Piper said.
Piper keeps her mom busy. In addition to her schooling, she’s a 3rd degree Jr. Black Belt at Degerberg Academy in Lincoln Square, has been playing piano since the third grade, is on the Goodman Theatre Youth Arts Council and Goodman Youth Poetry Ensemble.
“We read everything to her from her first year and she has since become a formidable writer and is now discovering the joys of directing and managing the stage, so her options are wide open and her talent seems limitless,” Buzz said.