Fighting Myeloma with Laughter

We decided to replace the usual boring benefit dinner with something in keeping with my husband's spirit, a comedy show. Peter's old friends and colleagues volunteered to perform onstage in Los Angeles.
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In her book, "The Year of Magical Thinking", Joan Didion defined for me what it is to lose your husband. Her book helped get me through the hell of losing my husband of 29 years, Peter Boyle, who died nearly three years ago of an incurable blood cancer called myeloma.

Certainly I took time to work though the grief with my family and friends, but I also felt the need to help others just as Joan had done with her book. I'm not the type to hide my head under the blankets. Cancer is unfair and brutal. I wanted to get back at the deadly disease that robbed me of my soul mate.

Years ago when I first met Peter in Los Angeles, Joan Didion and her late husband John Gregory Dunne invited us to dinner at their Malibu home. While she chopped vegetables, I told her that I was bored with being a rock'n'roll writer but didn't know what I wanted to do next. She said take a break, do something else, learn to cook. You'll figure it out.

So I did take cooking lessons in Italy with the amazing Marcella Hazan. Hanging out at rock clubs and interviewing musicians became a thing of the past. Peter and I settled down and had two beautiful daughters. But I had to do something more and that something was being active in my local community and at my daughter's schools. I focused my energy on running fund-raisers and serving on boards in my local New York community.

When Peter and I first heard his diagnosis of myeloma in 2002 we didn't even know what it was. A relatively rare blood cancer, it's on the rise due in part to our exposure to environmental toxins. Firefighters, for example, have some of the highest incidence of the disease as do people living in the smog filled Los Angeles basin. In the past the disease affected older people but now myeloma is showing up in a younger ones.

When Peter finally lost his fight, I believed that I had to keep up the battle against myeloma. The International Myeloma Foundation's president Susie Novis had sustained us with her knowledge and compassion throughout the course of the dread disease. Its chairman, renowned researcher, Dr. Brian Durie treated Peter. Myeloma killed Susie's first husband so she became my sister in sorrow. When she asked, I accepted her challenge to help the IMF find a new way to raise money for research and patient support.

We decided to replace the usual boring rubber chicken benefit dinner with something in keeping with Peter's spirit, a comedy show. Although Peter played monsters and villains in many movies, his roots were in improvisational comedy. Laughter to fight disease made sense. Peter's old friends, colleagues and admirers volunteered to perform onstage at the Wilshire Ebell Club and Theatre in Los Angeles. This November 7 as always our dear friend Ray Romano takes up hosting duties. The 3rd Annual Comedy Celebration for the Peter Boyle Memorial Fund of the IMF has a spectacular line up: Jason Alexander, Dana Carvey, Brad Garrett, Jimmy Kimmel, Doris Roberts, Bob Saget , Fred Willard and a special musical performance by Tenacious D with Jack Black and Kyle Gass. Seeing these great performers supporting Peter's memory makes life a little easier for me and my family.

In life we do have a choice to either deal with what's given us in a positive way or else let it undermine the rest of our lives. The first way pays tribute to those whom we loved and the second leads to despair.

After you become a widow, people don't quite know what to say. The worst question anyone can ask me is "How are you doing?" How can you be "doing" after such a profound blow. But I learned that I can and have to be doing something positive. Our private feelings are just that -- private -- so sharing them with well-meaning people isn't my way. But I have learned that turning those feelings into a positive plan of action is the way towards healing. So now I can answer, with what not how I'm doing and that's working towards finding a cure for the currently incurable myeloma.

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