Combatting cancer with comedy

One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer, according to the National Breast Cancer Association. Amid the walkathons and informational sessions happening this Breast Cancer Awareness Month are events of a less traditional nature, such as standup comedy shows and other performances.

In Brooklyn, cancer survivors and their loved ones gathered at an event hosted by the Inspired Word to tell their stories through music, poetry, comedy and writing.

Jenny Saldaña, the host of the event and a comedian, said laughter is one of the best medicines. “It has been proven that if you have a happy or positive disposition, you probably will do better in your treatment. And that’s how I dealt with my cancer – by making it funny,” said Saldaña.

“I lost my sister to breast cancer and that really spun me into trying to make sense of this new world I was in,” said poet Dara Kalima, whose dad was recently diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery just days after commemorating his late daughter’s birthday. “That’s when I really started devoting more energy to poetry. This week has been covered in cancer and trying to grapple with this whole situation. And so I grabbed a pen and started writing, and I can’t tell you how many poems I’ve written this week.”

Erin Cronican, a singer and actress with stage four breast cancer, said being able to participate in the arts makes all the difference in the world to her. “It allows me to express myself and talk about things without having to use the word ‘cancer,’” she said. “It makes a huge difference in my treatment.”

“The arts should be given to people who are in states of unwellness and trauma because studies show that it can improve your state of mind and relieve depression, anxiety, fear,” said Saranne Rothberg, a stage four cancer survivor. Rothberg is CEO of Comedy Cures, which incorporates therapeutic humor in programs and live events that allow children and grown-ups living with illness, depression, trauma and disabilities to express themselves through comedy, song, dance and art.

Rothberg said the arts provide an opportunity to express fear and anxiety related to cancer or trauma. “By using singing, dancing, writing, or comedy to express all these different emotions, it allows you more of a palette to paint with,” she said.

Valerie David is a three-time cancer survivor who wrote and performed The Pink Hulk, a one-woman, off-Broadway show telling her story. She incorporated comedy because she didn’t want people to be scared of cancer and because she wanted people to walk away feeling inspired and laughing. “There’s no doubt in my mind that performing The Pink Hulk while I had cancer helped me overcome this third cancer,” said David.

Rothberg and David met while they were both receiving treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. They discovered they shared a love of the arts and comedy. Rothberg remembers when David first told her she was writing a play telling her story. “It’s been incredible to see the evolution of her storytelling, but also of her wellness. I think that the play has helped her create miracles within her recovery,” she said.

“That’s the power of art,” said writer and poet Keisha-Gaye Anderson. “You connect to other people who have gone through this and maybe they have a way of coping with it that you never thought of.”


I'm a Broadcast Media major ready to graduate this semester. I have a passion for production and have my sights set on being on camera.