Dealing with cancer can be a stressful enough experience without having to navigate a worldwide pandemic, as many are doing due to COVID-19. But according to Rob Paulsen, voice actor and throat cancer survivor, the key to making it through each day may be in finding a reason to smile.
For Oral Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, we spoke with Paulsen about what it was like to be diagnosed with stage 3 metastatic squamous cell carcinoma when he had been making a living with his voice for nearly three decades. “What’s the axiom we’ve heard a zillion times?” he asked in the interview. “‘We make plans and God laughs?’”
Best known for his roles on animated series like “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain,” Paulsen is now taking on his role as the 2020 Head and Neck Cancer Alliance celebrity spokesperson with the same enthusiasm he has for finding the joy in each day. Here, he goes into detail about how he’s raising awareness about the disease while weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are going to be something like 600,000 cases of HPV-related head and neck cancer diagnosed this year worldwide,” Paulsen explains, adding that the information and resources found through the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance offer hope to patients, survivors and caregivers alike.
Through it all, Paulsen says the best advice he can give is to find a way to smile, whether it’s in dealing with cancer or COVID-19. “It sounds so simple: I say laughter is the best medicine, but the cool thing is you can’t overdose, and refills are free,” Paulsen said. “I’m not stupid enough to think you can laugh your way out of brain cancer or throat cancer or breast cancer, but I’ve met many folks who have gone through far worse than I and come out the other end not only with a renewed sense of priorities but a real keen sense of humor.”
“I have had the gift of cancer, and when I’ve gotten to be able to see how people behave, even when they know they’re on their way out sometimes, it’s nothing sort of astonishing, the power of the human spirit. And it’s always, unfailingly, attached to humor or joy in some way. I encourage people to find any joy they can.”