By Vivian Teich
**NOTE: Vivi passed away on February 14. 2015, and will be forever missed.
Getting through this insane illness — cancer — takes humor. I've learned not to hide from the C word, but to come out from under the surface somewhere and laugh. Yes laugh! Because if you can't find that one moment every day, you’re more or less doomed. I can't hang my head and moan. That's just not me. I like to push the envelope and watch the response. Some even think I'm funny. I hardly see that, but I am definitely a bit "out there," and quite open in how I express myself — often much to the embarrassment of my family
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May of 2010. (Read more about that here.) It was a fluke that my doctors caught the cancer, and it was already pretty advanced. I immediately started treatment at one of the premier cancer centers in the world, Sloan Kettering, only to realize a few years later that it wasn’t the place for me. Sloan kept sending me home, only for the cancer to return and start the whole process again. I am now being treated at the more progressive Bruckner Center, where a constant low dose of chemotherapy keeps the cancer at bay — but it also means that I will never have a day to feel 100 percent healthy again. Back to the laughing, right?
I get up in the morning (I guess I should be grateful for that small feat!), I look in the mirror, and on goes the lip liner. The eye shadow. The golden cheek blush. And then the most important thing. My BLING! I need to sparkle. I need those ridiculously large studs to shine back at me, and that blinding necklace wrapped five times around my neck. I need to see that and smile down to my gut, smile at the disease, and push it away for yet another day.
Not long ago, I had to go to the ER. My blood pressure had soared after a blood transfusion, and I was there for 13 hours before getting admitted. Mount Sinai Hospital has a new, very limited wing off the main part of the ER, fittingly called "the Geri ER," for seniors over 65. (Yikes, I qualified.) There are only 8 beds, away from the fray, and definitely for the elderly! So there I am, in my little cubicle, unable to shut out the elevated TV sounds as most of the patients in this wing are hard of hearing. I got into one of my F this moments, and put on my ear phones with one of my favorite crazy songs blasting in my ears. I was dancing around like a mad woman, oblivious to anything else around me, and unaware of a tiny little old southern lady bent over her walker, with a cane hanging from it and big broad Alabama straw hat. She must have been watching me for a bit, and then (as I was told later on) went over to one of the nurses, poked her with her cane and said, pointing at me "I want you to give me what she's on!" It was such a funny "When Harry met Sally" moment that the staff all burst out in laughter. In that instant all the illness and discomfort melted away, so savor and enjoy. Dig in. Make it work for you.
I remember once when I was being wheeled into an operating room for yet another of my various surgeries, a nurse came to me. "Before we begin to sedate you," she said, "do you know why you're here?" "Of course" I replied, "I'm having a baby!!" "What?" “You heard me" I said, "and I think it's a boy!" She thought I was perfectly serious, and assumed my head had come loose!
When I go for my treatments, I always like to sit in the same chair in the same corner of the chemo room. Someone once asked me how come I always get that chair. I told her I bought it!
Two years ago, after major abdominal surgery and with the holidays upon us, I was in the hospital for a very lengthy stay. Holiday decor was everywhere, so I decided to snatch a few of the shiny, colorful Xmas tree balls and decorate George. Who's George? It's the name of my pole. (And no, I'm not a pole dancer!) Every cancer patient will experience the IV drip pole at some point. Everything hangs from it, even your very soul! You learn to walk with it. Dance with it. So, I decorated it — and soon others followed. (See the photo above!)
I have an illeostomy bag, my prize after surviving a bowel blockage. It's awful, and a challenge at every turn. It’s the one thing I had hoped never ever to have to endure. It can be noisy and you have no control, loud guttery tones and gurgles. So I'm sitting in a very small doctor's waiting room perhaps a year ago, and there it went, all the sounds I couldn't hide or suppress. Everyone looked up at me. "It's my frog," I said. He goes everywhere with me." Everyone laughed and the croaking went on!
You gotta laugh. You gotta be raunchy. You gotta do that until your belly aches. Until the tears come. Until someone looks at you like you're a Looney Toon! When anyone asks me how I'm feeling, what do I say? "I ain't dead yet!"
So find the humor. Find it, whatever it takes. Get it out there. Make it part of your armor. There's something funny in almost everything, so look for it, don't hide from it. Hell I always say, take away whatever you want, but not my bling. Not my makeup. Well hopefully not my hair, and never ever my laughter.
I'm going into my fifth year of this shit! Yes shit! But there it is. That split second when you think the chips are down, and you can't get up and go on. There it is, just within reach. Grab it and run! Laughter. It fuels the soul.
Vivian Teich was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer in May of 2010. She is still on active chemotherapy at The Bruckner Center in Eastchester, NY. She lives in Manhattan, is a mother of 5, and a grandmother of 11. Vivi was formerly an actress and founded the Improvisational Theater for Children. She now coaches fellow cancer patients through their journeys, and has been an integral part of the expansion of the Bruckner Center.
Learn more at www.bruckneroncology.com.