Lifeaversary. May 24, 2023
Appears this morning in my CaringBridge Blog *Ovarian Dancer*
We lost Gilda Radner 34 years and four days ago. But I was NOW old when I realized that Gilda's Yahrzeit ("deathaversary") falls on the same English date as my own ovarian cancer surgery three years ago. I always identified with Gilda Radner. I just knew that if I could be as funny, as skinny, as cute and appealing as Gilda was, I'd be unstoppable. I'd attract all the relationships I could want. Or maybe the only one I'd need. Gilda even married my first true love - Gene Wilder. Wow. You go, girl. If I couldn't have Gene, Gilda was the perfect one to get him. Like Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, who rejoiced at the pairing of her secret love Alexander with her beloved sister Eliza, I sighed a deep sigh... not a sigh of envy, but a sigh of deep satisfaction.
And then Gilda Radner got cancer. Ovarian cancer. The bad one. The cancer you definitely don't want to have. The cancer that took my aunt in 1986. This couldn't be ok. "Please, please, PLEASE, " I prayed: "Please G🎶d, please heal her. She's made it. She has everything a person wants in life. She's worked so hard and she makes the world so happy." This was years before seminary. I had no idea I was echoing Moses' prayer from the Torah, book of Numbers, chapter 12 verse 13. I knew Gilda had a fight ahead of her, and that the cure could be worse than the disease. Nonetheless, I prayed.
My prayers were in vain. Gilda Radner passed away May 20, 1989. Ovarian cancer 2, Jews 0. Little did I know cancer wasn't done with my family (yes, I considered Gilda Radner family even though I never met her. The BRaCA gene mutation wasn't yet in the public eye, much less did we know how prevalent the double helix runs through Ashkenazic Jewish families).
Before she died, Gilda Radner used her illness to give meaning to the lives of other cancer patients. She got together with fellow cancer warriors in solidarity, with food and conversation. Nobody whispered the word "cancer" nor avoided saying it. Instead, they laughed it out loud, with Gilda as their instigator.
When I first read about "Gilda's Club," I couldn't imagine, even with my irreverent funnybone, how laughter could possibly rise from the ashes - or barf bag - of chemotherapy. Then a laughable moment popped up in 2004 with my friend Renée Coleson, of blessed memory. I was staying at Renée's New York apartment; she happened to be in remission and was wearing a wig to cover her crew-cut-length regrowth post-chemotherapy. One day she asked me to please remove my hair from the shower drain. I spontaneously cracked, "How do you know it's mine??" We both cackled. I began to understand "Gilda's Club."
Today, my colostomy stoma is named Petunia 🌺 because I needed a cute, adorable name for something that's the total opposite of cute and adorable. My erstwhile Stage 2C ovarian tumor is Audrey 2 👺 🌵because she was huge; it took my surgical team more than five hours to machete through all her pernicious, fibrous human-eating roots, vines, and fangs and wrestle her out of me (see why I have Petunia 🌺?). It makes perfectly imperfect sense that the month and day of Gilda's earthly exit is the same day I began to be brought back to life. I'm well aware that Gilda and my aunt didn't have all the developments in treatment in the mid-1980s that I had in the early 2020s. But she had a wildly creative humor that put life in her years, if not more years in her life. That gift has branched out to richen the lives of other cancer warriors and their loved ones. I'm grateful it continues to strengthen me as well.
Thank you, Gilda. Rest in power and punchlines. 😢