On Cancer and Fame


All the world's a stage, including cancer wards.

Yesterday, I ran into my childhood next door neighbor's ex-wife at the dollar store. I hadn't spoken to her in 40 years. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I'd had two bouts of breast cancer. She said, "I heard."

Let's face it. If you live in a small community and you get cancer, you sort of become famous. But you're not famous for your beauty or your talent or your intellect — you’re famous because you're sick.

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be famous. I didn't care how I got that way, I just wanted fame. Be careful what you wish for.

I've been asked by a local hospital to be the keynote speaker at a breast cancer awareness luncheon in October. I am honored. But I'm a little nervous because I haven't spoken in front of a large crowd since I did community theater when I was a child. I do stand in front of my writing classes and give daily lectures, but this will be different: more people, higher stakes, bigger chance to flub up. The organizer of the event even asked for my headshot and my bio. They're going to start the publicity for the event soon. Wow, publicity!

It was always my dream to become a Broadway actress. I longed to be a cat in "Cats" or Dainty June in "Gypsy" or Auntie Mame in "Mame." I was so jealous of Bernadette Peters. Why had God made her her and me me? Why hadn't Bernadette gotten famous for her cancer, and I had become a star for my beautiful, distinct singing voice? But that's just the luck of the draw.

My key note speaker gig is far from the Broadway stage, but it's still show business. So, in October, I've got to summon the strength to stand before a large audience and talk about my struggles and triumphs with cancer. Wish me luck. Or in the lingo of the stage, "break a leg."

We don't know what variation of our dream we'll achieve, but hopefully, if we dream hard enough, we'll get something close to our childhood wish.

Would it be too strange to do the time step or sing a little song before my speech? I know one thing. I'll take a small bow when it's over. I'll drop my head slightly and say "Thank you. Thank you," like Bernadette would.

No guts, no glory.

Who knows? Maybe my speech in my local community is just a stepping stone. Maybe I'll be giving speeches all over the place someday. Is it just a matter of time?

I'll say it again. Be careful what you wish for because you might get it. Once show business gets in your blood, it's hard to get it out, and I'm ready for my 15 minutes of fame.

God, grant me the strength and the health to continue this post-cancer journey filled with the smell of grease paint and the roar of the crowd.


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