Currently Viewing
Sometimes You Have to Laugh
February 17, 2015 – Jeannette Moninger
Chemobrain—It's Real, It's Complex, and the Science Is Still Evolving
February 17, 2015 – Susan Krigel, PhD
Oncology Society Endorses Guidelines for Prostate Cancer Survivor Care
February 16, 2015 – Tony Berberabe, MPH
Getting Back to Intimacy After a Cancer Diagnosis
February 14, 2015 – Elizabeth Whittington
Lenvima Approved to Treat Differentiated Thyroid Cancer
February 13, 2015 – Jason M. Broderick
Clinical Implications of Ibrance's Approval for Metastatic Breast Cancer
February 12, 2015 – Laura Panjwani
Lenvatinib Approval for Thyroid Cancer 'Likely" as FDA Decision Date Nears
February 12, 2015 – Jason M. Broderick
Ixazomib Delays Myeloma Progression in Phase 3 Trial
February 11, 2015 – Andrew J. Roth
After a Slow Start, Anti-Cancer Vaccine Research Shows High Potential for Treating Patients
February 10, 2015 – Andrew Smith

Sometimes You Have to Laugh

As a comedic actress, Julia Sweeney can usually find the humor in just about any situation, but when diagnosed with cervical cancer, she felt more of a punch than a punchline. Learning that humor was her way of healing came soon afterward, though.
BY Jeannette Moninger
PUBLISHED February 17, 2015
As a comedic actress, Julia Sweeney, best known for playing the androgynous character Pat on Saturday Night Live, can usually find the humor in just about any situation. But when her doctor called with the news that she had cervical cancer, Sweeney felt more of a punch than a punchline. It was March 1995 and for the past year, Sweeney, then 35, had been caring for her 31-year-old brother, Mike, who had stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “He joked that I got ‘sympathy cancer’ because I didn’t like him hogging my spotlight,” she recalls. “We started answering the phone with ‘House of Cancer.’”

Sweeney had a radical hysterectomy just three weeks after her brother passed away. After enduring the double whammy of losing her brother and her fertility, Sweeney found herself onstage doing a monologue about her family’s experience with cancer. “When people say ‘You can’t make cancer funny,’ I say, ‘How can you not?’” Sweeney says. “The treatments are bizarre, crazy and filled with embarrassments. It’s like being transported to Mars with a bunch of Martians poking at you every day.”

Sweeney’s show, titled God Said, “Ha!,” was a hit, and Sweeney used the material as a basis for her 1997 memoir which shares the same title, as well as for a film produced with Quentin Tarantino. For both her show and book, Sweeney admits she had moments when she questioned whether she really should be poking fun at something as dire as cancer. “Of course, cancer is unfair and terrifying. But you have to acknowledge the absurdity of the things that happen when you’re wearing a hospital gown,” she says.

For instance, after surgeons moved Sweeney’s ovaries higher up in her body to protect them from radiation treatments, one ovary went missing. As Sweeney recalls, “The doctor said it’s not unusual for an ovary, once cut off from its ‘responsibilities,’ to travel through the body. Now how do you not find that hilarious? Where does a retired ovary go? What’s the body’s equivalent of Florida?”

Nearly 20 years after her brother’s passing and her own battle with cancer, Sweeney still hears from fans thanking her for helping them to rediscover humor during terrible times. “I’m not saying that cancer is OK and funny. But it is OK to find funny moments in bad situations,” she says. “Anyone touched by cancer can relate to a need to laugh and feel better, if only for a little while.”
Be the first to discuss this article on CURE's forum. >>
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.

Related Articles

1
×

Sign In

Not a member? Sign up now!
×

Sign Up

Are you a member? Please Log In