Thursday, July 7, 2011

Toronto Sun by Newstalk 1010's Ted Woloshyn 2012: 'Battling Cancer with Humour' re:Marla Lukofsky

Battling cancer with humour

By ,Toronto Sun
First posted:

The first time I saw Marla Lukofsky perform comedy, she had me howling out loud at a routine she did called, “The Wizard of Oz in Three Minutes.” It was silly, funny and very clever.
Thirty some years later, Marla was a guest on my radio show talking about her latest offering, “I’m Still Here … and So Is My Hair”, which chronicles her battle with breast cancer. Not so silly, but very funny and truly inspirational.
“I was living in L.A when I felt a lump on my breast. It was malignant and it had spread to my lymph node which had to be removed,” she said.
An oncologist advised her to begin radiation and chemo treatments, and then presented a list of their potential and guaranteed side effects.
“People ask me how do you find humour in cancer? I tell them about the list which included chemically-induced menopause, sterility, hair loss, mouth sores, leukemia, and weight gain. And I said ‘What? I’m going to gain weight?’ I thought it was funny that the only thing I was worried about was gaining weight,” she said.
Lukofsky endured a hellish half-year period of treatments. So was it her sense of humour that helped her through?
“No. I lost my job, my agent, and friends abandoned me. There were nights I didn’t think I WOULD get through it,” she said.
But the things she endured she turned into funny stories, like having to get a new bathing suit.
“I was now bald, bloated and 20 or 30 pounds heavier. I told my friend the bathing suit experience was more painful than battling cancer,” Marla said.
Following treatment, Marla sought to continue her career but there were no offers so she came home.
Things were not much better here on the career front and in 2004, her father died, then her mother a year-and-a-half later.
Six months after that, her dog and another one came running toward her, leapt up and broke her leg in four places. She spent six months in a cast at a time she was going to synagogue twice a day to say the Kaddish (a prayer for the departed).
It was there she met a new friend who encouraged her to turn the daily journal she had kept into a book. Another enrolled her in a speaker’s agency that got her a job in Saskatoon at a cancer conference.
“It was amazing. There were 600 people in attendance — some terminally ill. They laughed, cried and gave me a standing ovation, and I thought ‘Oh my God, this is more important than I realized.’ One gentleman told me he had six months to live but that what I said gave him comfort.”
Since then, she has had her work published in online medical journals and was asked by a doctor in India for a video, which he showed at a prestigious TEDx conference.
Marla has spoken at a women’s shelter and at high schools, making people laugh while touching and inspiring them with the message she learned from her mother, “You are stronger than you think.”
Seems like the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion didn’t need to meet the Wizard of Oz after all. They just needed to meet Marla Lukofsky.
— Woloshyn hosts “Saturday with Ted” from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Newstalk 1010

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

'A Portrait of Grief' (published in Cell2Soul as 'About My Mother'

February 10, 2015
Yesterday was the anniversary of my mom's death.
On that day back in 2006, in the afternoon, my mom took her last breath, in her own bed, just as she had wanted, just as it should be. She was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia one year after my dad died. It was terminal.

I remember when I went to say the mourner's prayer, the Kaddish, twice a day for 11 months at synagogue. I met so many people in the same situation. They were of great comfort to me. This daily prayer and those people helped me get out of bed every morning. It was there that I met one of my now dearest friends,out of my tragedy.

Some people were there for the anniversary of their loved one's passing. One woman who was in her mid 60's said to me, "It's been 10 years now since my dad died and it still hurts. I feel like an orphan." I wondered then, will that be me as years go by. Now I know the answer. Yes, it still hurts.

It's still a surreal feeling/sensation that you are gone. I carry on in disbelief. I carry on with distractions, superficial as they may be. I carry on by hearing your words in my head. You said I am stronger than I think. I don't know about that.

Sometimes I think I see you at the supermarket, or the drug store. I want to run up and hug you and tell you I've missed you so. But it's not really you.
(And that strange woman keeps wondering why I'm staring at her.)

I think about you often. Maybe more than you thought I would. Maybe not. People say we were alike. I didn't see it. Certainly not physically. You were taller, thinner, blue eyed, fair skinned and had perfect posture and profile. A real beauty. I'm nothing like that. I used to think I was adopted because I didn't look like you. But I have my birth bracelet and certificate that you gave me and I know I came out of you. I even know the time. 6:05pm. Weighed in at 6 pounds even. Now even my big toe is heavier than 6 pounds.

I don't need a synagogue or a candle to commemorate your death, although I do it out of respect for you. I wonder if you can see me now. I wonder if you know that I'm singing again. You and Daddy thought I had a good voice and that I was a good writer. I write now too. Sometimes, I even write about you.
Love Marla, your baby

'No One's Priority' published in Cell2Soul

April 18, 2012  

It’s quite a unique feeling, being no one’s priority. It’s freeing in a way ­­—
an independence of sorts. Not necessarily one that you’d wish for but nevertheless
it’s there for the taking. And you’ve been assigned the task and title.
You are now crowned… ‘No one’s priority.’
Does this mean you are lonely?
Not necessarily.
Does this mean you might feel scared at times?
Does this mean you don’t have anyone in your life?
Of course not.
You have friends, siblings, relatives and acquaintances but are you their priority?
Not if they have partners, parents or children. And if they have grandchildren,
you're dead in the water girlfriend.
Don’t get me wrong. They may be available to you if there’s an actual emergency,
especially if it's theirs,
but in the day-to-day scheme of things, the 9-5’s, the 7 days a week, 52 weekends
in the year, these peeps have someone else to think about, to run to, to share with,
to take care of and it ain’t you. It just ain't you. Don’t believe me? Think about this.
If you’re home-bound with a nasty head cold and need someone to pick you up some
chicken soup with matzo balls and a nose-spray chaser, do you really think
they're gonna drop what they’re doing, and put you before their own loved ones, their child,
their lustful lover or their beloved pet?
Well, maybe if it’s a cat.
And, if you wake up in the middle of the night from a bad dream or feel like you’re
gonna hurl your cookies after eating some contaminated food, do you think
really think they're gonna leave the comfort of their own warm bed,
so they can place their cool hand on your forehead to soothe your aching soul and
tell you it's gonna be allll right now baby?
But they'll definitely call you in the morning from their hopefully
hands-free cellphone while driving to work after getting their Starbucks coffee,
to 'check-in with you', for a bit.
And when it’s New Years Eve, or X-mas day, or a Sunday afternoon with perfect skies
and a moderate temperature, do you think it’s you they’ll be calling to share it with
no matter what, as if it’s a given, a guarantee?
Or how about when you have to go downtown for yet another mammo, ultrasound and
MRI, to follow up on your, ‘now in remissioned’ cancer, and you have to go alone,
because the people in your life, have their own lives and their own priorities
and those priorities, just ain’t you. It just ain’t YOU!
And That reality keeps rearing it’s ugly head more often than you care for it to, and
no matter how much you try to convince yourself that it just ain’t so,
and no matter how many times you watch ‘The Help’ and recite those
magical words to yourself that the black maid said to her little white girl child,
“You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” (and you indeed may be),
there ain’t no denying the fact that you is no one’s priority.

By  Marla  Lukofsky
April 18, 2012

'Marla's Falafel Follies'

I will offer to do many things to help my family out when it comes to preparing for Jewish celebrations but going to “Jewish stores” is not one of them, especially near the Sabbath or holiday beginnings. Having said that, my bark is often far worse than my bite. Admittedly, I did in fact go, the day before Passover no less, to Toronto Kosher to buy myself some fixings and surprisingly the store was not too crazy (mashugana). What is not well known to my relatives and peers, is that I have been secretly visiting Toronto Kosher for some time now, buying chicken carcasses and various other chic parts in order to make my virginal chicken soups, a new quest on my cooking endeavors list. I have actually been enjoying talking to the staff and patrons alike, getting more advice on how to make the perfect chicken soup. I'm determined to make one just right. Often, I feel like a gentile amidst their company who are mostly of the Jewish orthodox and ultra-orthodox persuasion but there are still those conservative Jews who buy their meat there even if they eat unkoshered flesh outside of their homes. Thus the contradictions begin and never end.Their eyes politely hide their dismay that a nice Jewish girl such as myself still doesn't know how to make a decent chicken soup. I know, I know. Even I'm surprised.Fortunately for me thus far, everyone from the employees to the clientele have been very friendly, helpful and most courteous. That was not the scene however, at Tov-Li's Kosher eatery just down the street where I had stopped by (and have done so quite often lately) for what I believe to be one of the best falafel sandwiches in town.
Talk about a culture shock and I don't mean the menu.
The staff was most helpful and accommodating and the procedure for giving your order and having it completed worked like a well-oiled machine but something was different. I felt like I was in another country based on the ultra-orthodox clientele. Was it being around ready-to-eat food that made it seem so different from that of the butcher store down the street?

I found a twelve-year-old girl taking care of her 5 siblings, 2 of them crying constantly as they were under the age of 3. I asked where her mother was. No answer. Just that glazed stare of "Why would someone ask me that and I don't have to answer this strange woman." Rightly so little girl,rightly so. This prepubescent child was so dutiful and skilled at keeping her family in order, that if she had more mammary glands, I have no doubt that she would have breast fed the younger ones if asked to do so. Then came the onslaught parade of "women-with-wigs" as I like to call them, complete with their fake hairs elaborately set by their hairdressers along with their perfectly painted on makeup, (according to their modesty-rule NOT) pushing and shoving into line, along with their ultra-orthodox hubbys, dressed in their black garb, huge hats and trailing tzit tzits, pushing me aside so that they don't touch me (according to Jewish law) but in fact had no problem pushing me aside, thereby touching me...with no apologies,and absolutely no behavioral social instructions in place for the multitudes of unruly children (6 to a family) who had the run of the joint. Oy Vey. It was a megillah of mayhem but still a mechaiyeh. Now get out your Yiddish dictionaries to find out what I just said. If you never get a chance to go to Israel's religious quarter, no problem. Just stop by Tov-Li's for a great falafel and a culture shock for sure.

PS: If you do decide to give this place a try, (located on Bathurst St. north of Lawrence and south of Wilson on the east side) keep in mind it's a dangerous area to be traveling in. Why? Because there are lots of ultra-orthodox people driving in that area, and whether it's because of their belief in God's will or bashert (destiny), they (for the most part and I realize this is a massive generalization) don't seem to follow the rules of the road in general, running thru red lights, stop signs, and rarely signaling during their travels. If you see a crooked-wigged or big black-hatted driver in front of you, change lanes quickly and get the hell out of their way. Then head over to Tov-Li for some delicious foods amidst the chaos. It's a cornucopia of culinary delights.

Monday, July 4, 2011

'Is There Power in Prayer?' published in Cell2Soul

March 5, 2012

So there I was, sitting on the curb outside the Farmer’s Market pharmacy in Los Angeles, minding my own business, waiting for my anti-nausea drugs to be filled, when out of nowhere a Baptist woman and her two children surrounded me.  There was no mistaking the fact that I was not in good shape, reeling from the side effects of chemo, looking pretty peaked, complete with scarf-covered bald head and paled face to match. She asked if they could pray for my eternal soul. Surprisingly I had the wherewithal to respond.
"Well…you can pray for me if you wanna lady, but I have to be honest and let you know that I’m a proud agnostic gay Jew. Now…if you still wanna pray for me, then you go right ahead. I figure it can’t hurt.”
The woman moved quickly, instructing her children to take their positions (like a squad of sharp shooters).
“Robert, you take this nice lady’s left hand, and Vanessa, you take her right. Now children… close your eyes, bow your heads down, and listen to my words.” My head was bowed down too…between my knees…trying not to chuck my cookies. I heard the woman say all sorts of incredibly kind religious things. Lorrrdy this and Our Fatherrrrr that. She made beautiful wishes and dreams for me, for my future and for my health. I felt like I was a fancy dinner, being said grace over. Finally she concluded with a resounding "AAA-men” and her children followed suit.
"Amen,” said the son.
"Amen,” said the daughter.
"Amen.” That was me… the last 'Amen’.
So, you might want to know… did it help? The prayers? The good vibes? Who the fuck knows. One thing I do know for sure is that they felt better for doing it, and I felt better for letting them. Then I went home and threw up. Pills and all. Amen!!!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

'The Magic Words' (TEDx Talk, published)

Previously published in Cell2Soul, Health Story Collaborative, TEDx Talk (India)

Years ago while living in Los Angeles, dealing with my breast cancer treatments, I met a remarkable Nurse Practitioner named Sherry Goldman.  She was in charge of a special breast cancer unit at UCLA which I had reluctantly attended figuring they couldn’t do much for me since there wasn’t much left of me to repair. The side effects of my chemo and radiation had not only gotten the best of my body but my mind as well. I was a heap of flesh, muscle, and nerves, something that resembled Marla but I wasn’t Marla anymore or at least I didn’t feel like I was.

When I walked into her office, Sherry met me with a professional yet warm demeanor. She shook my hand, asked me a few preliminary questions and then got right into it, giving me a detailed and extensive physical examination, which surprised me. Not at being examined per say but she was a nurse practitioner after all. I expected less detail, less hands-on, less something. Then she looked me in the eye and did something that was very unexpected. She asked me how I was feeling not just physically but emotionally as well. What was even more remarkable was that she waited for my answer. My honest detailed feelings of destitution didn’t rattle her bones for one moment. She took my hand and with a focused eye lock, told me that everything I said made sense and that it was brave of me to admit these things because most people cover it up. I felt validated by her and less alone with my hidden secret thoughts. She sat back and took time to assess my situation and then came up with a new course of treatment for me.
Her medical suggestion to improve my physical and mental well-being? Take walks every day.
            “Start small,” she said. “Short distances, a block or two at first and then make it longer with each day.”
My response to her was a resounding, “NO!  I don’t want to. I don’t feel good, I don’t look good, and I don’t have the energy and I don’t care how short or long the walk is. I just can’t do it.”

Well, Sherry sat quietly, absorbing my passionate declaration and then uttered to me what I like to call, ‘The Magic Words’. These were words that only one could say to another if one really took the time to listen. Not only did Sherry listen but she also had the keen observational skills to sense what the problem truly was with a simple walk and me. What were Sherry’s magic words?
            “Then don’t walk for you Marla, walk for ME...and I want to hear how much you’ve walked when you come back to see me in two weeks.”

Suddenly my eyes lit up, my back straightened and a fire was in my belly and it wasn’t acid indigestion. That day I went home and started to walk and with each day I walked more and more, and longer and further.  Soon, I was walking 3 hours a day, maybe more, chomping at the bit to report back to Sherry with pride at my new accomplishment. Two weeks later when I saw Sherry Goldman, I looked like a new person, and I was.

There is a belief that one shouldn’t do things just to please another but rather to do it to please oneself. Well, that’s all well and good some of the time but there are other times when it’s imperative to break that rule. If pleasing someone else is the key to getting a person back on track and healthy again then so be it and that’s exactly what happened with me.  Not only did my health and strength improve, but I also took up jogging and now I walk and run every day, FOR ME! And I have not stopped there. I ran my first 5K Marathon in March and came in 187 out of 600 people. Not bad at all, I say. It’s been years since hearing those 'Magic Words' and I haven’t had that kind of positive medical experience in a very long time, BUT I will NEVER forget what that incredibly smart and talented Nurse Practitioner did for me. NEVER!

Marla  Lukofsky
Keynote Speaker on Breast Cancer/Writer/Comedian/Singer