Battling cancer with humour
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