Using Comedy to Cope with Cancer
- SNL alum Vanessa Bayer, 40, credits her high school battle with leukemia to getting into comedy, and just launched a new Showtime series called I Love That For You based off of her experience with the disease.
- In an appearance on CBS Mornings, Bayer admitted that she loved how much attention she got for being sick, so that was a silver lining for her and is a big contributor to the writing on her new project.
- Bayer was diagnosed in 9th grade after experiencing flu-likes symptoms and a swollen eye. Many people show different symptoms and often a diagnosis is delayed because many of these symptoms are so common.
“It was really nice because I have some distance from it,” she told CBS Mornings hosts Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil of the emotional element, “it’s been almost 20 years since I was sick.”Read More
The New York City-based film and TV star is still feeling the love to this day, though she agreed with King that once you get cancer, the “C word” absolutely stays with you. However, making light of it is what got her through her battle. “We really were able to make fun of it and it helped us get through that whole journey and I think it’s the reason I got into comedy today.”
.@vanessabayer‘s new show follows a woman who survived childhood cancer — something Bayer overcame herself.
She says comedy helped her “get through that journey” and that the journey, in return, influences her comedy today. pic.twitter.com/hM2nRRQJgE
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) April 26, 2022
Vanessa’s Leukemia Fight
Bayer went through her battle with leukemia during high school. She was diagnosed in 9th grade at age 15 after experiencing flu-likes symptoms and a swollen eye. Many people show different symptoms and often a diagnosis is delayed because many of these symptoms are so common.
“First we thought it as an infection, and then we couldn’t figure it out,” she told PEOPLE in 2016. “Finally I was diagnosed with leukemia.”While other kids were worrying about what they would wear the next day or whose party they would get invited to, this teenage warrior was dealing with grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The summer before her senior year, she finally went into remission.
Luckily, the cancer never came back, but battling the disease in these formative years has continued to shape her approach to life and her love of comedy. “My dad is a really funny guy, and we would make jokes about leukemia,” she said. “When my friends would come over we would joke about it too. It’s sort of messed-up out of context, but it put everybody at ease.”
Learning About Leukemia
In general, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, but there’s so much more to know about disease. Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, recently sat down with SurvivorNet to talk about ALL, how it affects the body and the type of treatments that work to fight it.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Oluwole explained. “It grows very fast. Within a few weeks, a few months, the person will start to feel very sick. And that’s why we will have to give it an equally aggressive type of treatment to break that cycle.”
He says many times the leukemia is rested in the bone marrow, and because it is an abnormal growth, it just keeps dividing.
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” he said. “Not only that, because this is part of the immune system, the immune system is sorta like the police of the body. So those abnormal cells that have now become cancer, they have the ability to go to many places. They go into the blood, and they often go into the tissue or the lining around the brain.”
“By the time somebody comes to us and they have ALL we already assume that it has gone everywhere in the body, and we have to treat them like that,” Dr. Oluwole said.
Symptoms of leukemia can vary depending on the specific type of leukemia. Common signs and symptoms of the disease include:
- Fever or chill
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
Here at SurvivorNet, we always encourage people to advocate for themselves when it comes to cancer and, more generally, health care. When it comes to a child or teenager, the parent must become the advocate. Although symptoms of leukemia are often initially tough to identify, make sure to get your child checked out if something seems amiss, and don’t stop for answers until you find out what’s wrong.