Women in Exhibition–and the global exhibition space—is filled with incredible women whose stories are an inspiration on both a personal and a professional level. In this month’s WIE newsletter, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we highlight one of those powerful women in our own community, whose path has taken her through a career in exhibition, a battle with breast cancer, a Covid-caused furlough, and a discovery of her power as an artist.
Veronica Moreno, most recently in operations at Ventura, California-based circuit Regency Theatres, started her journey in cinema working at a cinema concession stand at the age of 16. As the years went on, she moved up the ladder, taking positions at General Cinemas (acquired by AMC in 2002), Mann Theatres, and finally Regency, where she worked from 2012 until being furloughed in March of 2020.
In her decades in the industry, “I got to know theaters like the back of my hand,” says Moreno. She gravitated towards certain areas, including day-to-day acts of mentorship—”Helping somebody understand how to do something a little better… that’s the high for me”—and building and construction. “I can build a theater if I wanted to!,” she says. “I’m very proud of that, because it’s a man’s world. And I rock it in there. That’s my thing. I’ve run crews of men and, oh my gosh, I’ve had backlash because I’m a woman telling them what to do. And I’m like, ‘Too bad!’ You don’t want to do it, you can go home.”
“I was like a machine,” Moreno said. “I just did it”–putting in the long hours, nights and weekends (including Fridays spent visiting Regency locations, battling through Orange County traffic). Her husband, artist Digger Mesch, called her a “soldier.” Moreno recalls her final years in the industry as “brutal… you don’t have your own life.”
Years before being furloughed in March 2020, Moreno also had to soldier through something no one wants to experience. In December 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer; two months later, in February 2018, she had a double mastectomy. “When I got the call that my test results came back positive for cancer, I had the normal reaction. I cried. I was devastated. You feel at that moment that you’re being handed a death sentence. I’m a pretty strong woman. I’m not sickly. I never would have guessed at any point that if I had to have [an illness], that it would be [cancer]. Ever. It doesn’t run in my family or anything.”
Strong and capable in more ways than one, Moreno took to researching her new circumstances—finding out what questions to ask of doctors, not solely depending on them to tell them all she needed to know. “I looked at it like, ‘OK, I’m going to war. I’m a general. And I need to figure out how I’m going to win this war. So that’s how I looked at it—just be informed and know what was coming.” That included, after the mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy. Her breasts and her hair were “the things I liked most about myself,” she says. “And both of those were taken.” Her long locks were fashioned into a mohawk, “something I’d always wanted to do. Okay, why not? One night, I was sitting on the couch, and I ran my fingers through my hair and a chunk of hair came out. I went to the bathroom—it was two, three in the morning—and I just shaved my head completely bald. And yeah. That’s it. I was just done at that point.
Moreno finished her chemo—supported all the way by “sister from another mister” Ashley O’Neill, whom Moreno describes as her “angel,” and receiving cards, cookies, visits, and well-wishes from her Regency co-workers—and went back to work at Regency in August 2018. Still, post-chemo, “you have to understand that your body’s different now,” she says. “You have to be careful and watch everything that happens with you.”
“And it was Covid that gave,” she laughs. “It got me out.” For many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic has made us reassess our priorities, our goals, our values—leading billions through a long night of the soul that simultaneously offers the pressure and the opportunity to think about what you reallywant to do with your life. Add to that that Moreno had not only been furloughed but survived cancer, and time was ripe for a reinvention. She’d always been an artist, but she’d never pursued art as her primary goal. “It’s a scary thing to do, just step out and do something like that, not having anything to fall back on,” she says. Covid made her fears real—and Moreno found, as she had when battling cancer, that she had what it took to face them.
Encouraged by her husband, Moreno has rediscovered herself as an artist. She’s become an explorer, not tying herself down to one medium; she makes gigantic dream-catchers, paints, creates with art and glass, makes soaps and candles and lotions. Before, “I was losing my life.” Now, though she misses many of the people she worked with, “I feel free. I feel like I got to be in a place I always dreamed about being.”