Everybody loves a survivor. Not everybody gets to survive.
I’m convinced that setting goals and having something to look forward to helps get cancer patients through the tough times.
Take our trip last weekend to New York City, for instance. Last August, while I was in the throes of chemo, my friend and old editor Fran Smith came from NY to visit for a few days. On the flight out she said she tried to think of something to do for me that would give me something to look forward to. She said she thought of tickets to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I love him and love the show. Laughter can get someone through cancer treatment. Who knew it was the hardest ticket to get in town? Certainly not Fran when she thought aloud that she would like to do that for me.
Poor Fran was stuck. How would she ever pull that off? I, on the other hand, blissfully looked forward to the day I could get on a plane and travel again – to see Jon Stewart!!!!
Michelle and I talked about it constantly. It was this abstract goal, and its achievement would mean I was getting back to being my old self.
Fran must have been panicking until the moment she scored, which was on the second-worst day of my cancer life. I’ve said before, there are no coincidences in cancer recovery. As Michelle and I were driving to Stanford for my double mastectomy, alternately in silence and sobbing, Fran called.
Fran was at a silent auction for the National Audubon Society, where her husband David (and our former managing editor at the Mercury News) had just taken over as CEO/President. There amongst a table full of bird etchings was the prize: four VIP tickets to the Daily Show and a backstage tour. She called giddy when she won the auction, boosting my spirits as I headed into the procedure that forever would alter how my body looks.
During recuperation we planned our trip for Valentine’s Day. Surely I would have enough energy to walk around the city by then, I thought.
The trip became more than simply a travel goal. Making it to the show would represent 10 months of life-saving struggles behind me.
Just being there overwhelmed me and my eyes kept welling with tears. We had four of the 30 VIP tickets in a studio of 210 people. We sat on the side, in what would be Stewart’s line of sight when he interviewed his guest.
But first, the warm-up act. Comedian Paul Mercurio, an Emmy and Peabody-winning writer for the show, came out to coach us on how loudly we had to laugh to be a good laugh track. We couldn’t quite get it (you have to be really loud because the mics in the audience are at half the volume has Stewart’s). Then Mercurio said something funny and I was the only one who laughed. Very loudly.
He spun around and made eye contact with me. “That’s how loud you have to be, like the woman in the green scarf.”
For a split second I froze as all eyes turned on me. This was my moment. I had to seize it.
So I stood up, threw my arms out wide and exuberantly said “This is my Make-A-Wish trip.”
The audience erupted in applause. For me!!!
And it was the beginning of a sustained exchange between me and Mercurio, who of course had to complain that cancer isn’t funny. I got to thank Fran and David for getting the tickets that landed us there, I talked about my hair and how everyone in NYC just thought I was fashionable, not a patient recovering from chemo. He would talk to others in the audience, but kept coming back to me. He asked me if I had a partner or husband, and I put my arm around Michelle and told him she’s my partner. “Oh, and you’re gaaaayyyyy? That’s even better,” he said before making a risqué joke about me and cancer.
“I need your email address,” he eventually said, borrowing a pen and piece of paper from someone in the audience. He’ll be in Sacramento in April and invited Michelle and me to come.
For a long while, I was the center of attention. And that wasn’t even the best part of the experience. Of course there was a very funny Daily Show episode — and we all laughed loudly.
Then as we filed out of the studio a funny thing happened in New York. People I didn’t even know came up to me and wished me luck. A woman who works for the show gave me a long hug and said her aunt is fighting breast cancer now. Others said they would think good thoughts.
Everybody hates cancer. It’s not funny. But to be in a place where I can laugh at some of my experiences shows me how far I have come.