Thursday, June 11, 2009
Gilda shows the way
Two-thirds into Gilda Radner's autobiography, the message that I'm hearing loud and clear is that cancer is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Gilda Radner was one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players who made "Saturday Night Live" so much fun to watch in its first five years. With characters like Rosanne Rosannadanna, Emily Litella and Baba Wawa, Gilda won the hearts of millions of viewers, including me.
After Gilda left the show in 1980, Saturday Night Live lost a lot of its goofy charm, and at least this viewer decided it wasn't worth staying up late on Saturdays anymore.
In 1986, Gilda learned that she had ovarian cancer, and less than three years later, she died.
If I had read "It's Always Something" before I got my cancer diagnosis in January, instead of months later, I would have been far better prepared to roll with the punches this disease has dealt. I don't have much in common with Gilda Radner's life, but her experiences with cancer more than 20 years ago eeriely foreshadow some of my own.
Other experiences Gilda writes about in the book suggest ways that I might cope with this disease. The Wellness Community, a cancer support network that Gilda discovered when she was undergoing chemotherapy, looks like something worth checking out.
I'm not in any hurry to finish "It's Always Something." But I've peeked ahead to the last pages and see that Gilda wanted the jacket of her book to read "Her triumph over cancer" or "She wins the cancer war."
"I wanted a perfect ending, so I sat down to write the book with the ending in place before there even was an ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle and end. Like my life, this book has some ambiguity. Like my life, this book is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next."
Gilda was 42 when she died from ovarian cancer. Although her story didn't turn out with her "winning the cancer war," as she had hoped, she's helping people like me write happy endings to our stories. And that gives me one more reason to love her.