Over Christmas my family and I were watching old Saturday Night Live Episodes and we found ourselves looking for Gilda Radner’s characters specifically. She was such a funny, special lady and her personas of Emily Latelle, Lisa Lupner and Roseanne Roseannadanna were so hilarious we still imitate them today.
I remember seeing this book in stores when it came out. I can’t remember if it came out posthumously (she died in 1989) – and it very likely did, but for some reason I was interested in it, but failed to pick it up at the time. It’s Always Something is Gilda Radner’s chronicle of her experience of living with and treating ovarian cancer. You’d expect a comedienne to publish a funny book, and Radner did try to inject humor into this work, but cancer is seriously unfunny, and this book is more about the everyday challenge of coming to grips with the reality of living with a disease you have little control over.
At the time this book came out, my mother’s best friend was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Much of Radner’s struggled were a mirror of what Marilyn went through. And like Radner, Marilyn also lost her battle and died within a few years of her diagnosis. Fast forward to today. I was in my 20’s when this book came out. I hadn’t yet experienced death and illness first hand, so in some ways I am glad I waited to read this. I think I would have missed the greater messages Radner imparted.
The first is that we are all faced with our mortality. It doesn’t matter if you have cancer or not. We are going to die, but we just don’t know when. Having a terminal illness merely forces us to look at that fact. Second, in spite of living with illness and going through treatments that are often unpleasant, you can still have a full and joyful life. The trick in getting through life – whether you have cancer or not, is to appreciate the good things in it and not dwell on what you don’t have.
Six years ago my best friend died of leukemia. She only lived 14 months from her diagnosis, but her treatment gave her that time. Her form of leukemia, AML, is fast moving and aggressive, and she would have only had a few weeks at most without chemotherapy. She taught me what Gilda expresses in her book – that you can experience joy and suffering at the same time. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Another point my friend Roberta taught me, is that knowing of your impending death can actually be a blessing. It forces you to reconcile, to love and to heal the relationships in your life. Nothing gets left hanging. Your loved ones make sure you know they love you and vice versa.
Some people might read this book and find it sad, knowing that there was no cure for Gilda Radner. But in reality, this book is uplifting. It is about real life – about obstacles and pain and suffering, but also about love and joy.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1989