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Ruth Pennebaker: Having Cancer, and Finding a Personality August 12, 2008

Posted by William Spear in >> Out Basket.
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Ruth Pennebaker writes about the changes which come about due to cancer diagnoses. In her case, she became a comedian. Not performing standup on a stage, but injecting comedy all around her.

In “Having Cancer, and Finding a Personality”, she writes of fighting cancer with with humor. For her, everything had a joke attached to it. Her urgency comes from the following:

In the midst of all this — the comebacks, the wisecracks, the flapping mouth — I had a dim idea of what I was doing. I wanted to be someone, a recognizable personality, a full-blooded, memorable human being, and not just a cancer patient. I had already lost the person I used to be, that healthy, energetic 45-year-old woman. I wasn’t capable of losing more.”

She also quotes Anatole Broyard’s book “Intoxicated by My Illness”. Broyard, who lost his life to prostrate cancer in 1992, was a book critic and editor at The new York Times. From Broyard’s book is the following:

A critical illness is like a great permission, an authorization or absolving. It’s all right for a threatened man to be romantic, even crazy, if he feels like it. All your life you think you have to hold back your craziness, but when you’re sick you can let it go in all its garish colors.”

As I approach the half-century mark in my own life, perhaps Pennebaker and Broyard offer corollaries to finding a voice within my writing, directing, and producing. From Mr. Broyard, stop holding back the craziness and “let it go in all its garish colors” and in so doing I’ll create characters which embody Ms. Pennebaker’s self-purpose of being “a recognizable personality, a full-blooded memorable human being”.

God speed, Ms. Pennebaker. Might I send you a big red clown’s nose in appreciation of your insight?


“Having Cancer, and Finding a Personality”
By Ruth Pennebaker
Published: August 11, 2008
New York Times


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