Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Chemo is a bitch. Depression is too. For me, now, they have one common thread. Robin Williams.

I was a little kid when I used to watch "Happy Days." And I remember watching an episode where the Fonz was being antagonized by this weird alien named Mork. Soon after, I was mesmerized by television show about an alien and this woman that he lived with. And I would sit, crosslegged with jeans, rainbow suspenders, and a plaid shirt, hanging on every moment of this crazy show. I greeted people, with my fingers spread, saying, "Nanu Nanu." I still have those rainbow suspenders. And I still remember watching every moment, waiting for the end when Mork would be talking back to his home planet, giving them the observations and words of wisdom that he gathered.

I couldn't believe that this alien that came out of an egg was the same man speaking fluent Russian that defected in the middle of a department store. A teacher inspiring his students to deliver a giant, "Yawp." Or that he became a doctor helping children with cancer with laughter with one of my college classmates in the cast. Or a doctor that could awaken people from trance like states, and then break as they returned to their previous conditions. I never imagined that somebody so hairy and so crazy could transform into a proper British woman. 

Above all else, this man made me laugh. And it wasn't because of fart jokes, it wasn't because of anything accidental. He was so smart. The breadth of the resources that the man had in his brain from which he could pull was astounding. One of my classmates recently labeled me as being "intellectual." But the brilliance of Robin Williams with that he could make children laugh using references, information and comedy that was based on such highly intellectual subjects that it boggles the mind. His comedy was intelligent. It made you want to learn more about what he was referencing. But at the same time, you really didn't give a crap, because your eyes were tearing, your stomach was seizing, and you might just have peed a little.

September 29, 2011. First chemo. I was scared out of my mind. I sent my kids to school, and my dad came to pick me up. I was putting together my chemo bag. A friend told me I must bring an iPod, so I had that packed. And DVDs. I had "Princess Bride" and "Wizard of Oz." But those didn't feel like enough. I then remembered my Robin Williams Live DVD. I hadn't watched it yet, so I grabbed that. Thinking of Mork, I chose my rainbow socks, an homage to Mork's rainbow suspenders. A little bit of in innocent childhood joy to brighten my mood.

When my dad and I got there, we were cracking jokes, and giggling. But it wasn't because anything was funny. It was awkward. It was forced. I think we both felt like if we didn't make each other laugh, the alternative would be too unbearable for the other to witness. That's why my mother couldn't come. I didn't want her to, and I don't think she could have handled it. She takes too much too seriously to just let it go, even for a moment, and laugh. I wish she would learn to do that. To laugh at the worst of things. To let go of things out of our control. I always thought she'd lead a happier life.

But my dad, aside from just being funny, was always able to laugh at anything. Perhaps that's why he loved Robin Williams. He is intelligent, raucous, a little bit of a fart joker, but brilliant.

So, when we finally got the DVD player working, we put in Robin Williams. And we laughed. We laughed from the bottom of our feet to the hairs on our heads (as short lived as they were). We laughed loudly enough that nurses came in to see what was going on - belly laughing and guffawing are not common for a chemo room. Then, when they saw what was happening, they stayed. And laughed with us. Throughout that day's treatment, our nurse, Clarissa, and her colleagues popped in for relief. Before I knew it, chemo was done. My veins weren't sore, my stomach was. The tears streaming down my face were of joy and exhilaration, not of pain or sorrow.

Particularly funny was his bit on Lance and cancer. Perhaps it was because I had just met Lance, or was meeting him again in a few days, or because we now shared cancer and chemo as well as bikes, but it was like Robin was saying outloud all the snarky things I would never dare say, and he made it ok to think. 

My kids had the chance to see him live at the LIVESTRONG 15 Celebration. Thank goodness.

The thing with Robin Williams is that he gave us a vocabulary to laugh at cancer. Maybe that's why so many of us at LIVESTRONG feel so connected to him, aside from his friendship with Lance, his involvement with the organization, and the fact that he rode with us. Robin gave us the wherewithall to laugh at cancer. To laugh in cancer's face. He helped us find the absurdity of the situation. He helped us face death and laugh. Not spitefully, but with joy - unabashed joy.

I am devastated at his loss. I am saddened to the core. The world has lost a bright, brilliant star that was too smart, too funny, too emotionally connected for this world. 

Perhaps that was his greatest gift next to his laughter - his ability to connect and feel what others were feeling. 

As we said at my friend Ari's funeral, who died of a heart attack due to a congenital heart disease,his heart was too big for his own good. He felt too much. Which was his blessing and a curse.

"You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."