Any lady who likes comedy likes Gilda, right? I mean, anyone who likes comedy likes Gilda, but especially any lady. Because she wasn’t a lady. She was FUNNY. She had the best hair and the most grace and the least-existent vanity.
I picked up her book pretty ignorantly, not realizing that it was mostly about her battle with cancer. And as I read it, there were times when I didn’t want to finish it. I didn’t want to know what would happen, because I know what ultimately happened. The world lost a genius, one of the many we’ve lost, and it’s a downright rotten feeling to read about it from her own perspective, knowing that you ultimately know more than she did.
But it’s also incredibly enlightening to read it from her perspective. It’s obvious that she gained a lightness about her situation as it was nearing the end; in fact, it’s incredible that she was able to pour that lightness into writing an entire book, but that only speaks to her ferocity. At times, it even felt like she was writing it from beyond the grave, like she had come to such an incredible peace about the whole thing that she was able to step outside of herself and watch it happen to someone else.
It happened to her, though. She fought cancer and surgery and chemo and radiation and dieting and everything for years, and it always seems to happen to the wrong people. Not that it ever happens to the right person, but in her case, it feels like she was stolen from us. I mean, this is a woman who, in the midst of it all, tried meditation: “I had hear about mantras and all that, but all I could think of was I would have to take my contact lenses out to do that because I can’t keep my eyes closed that long with them in; they start to hurt” (p. 83). I love that.
As she battled ovarian cancer, and learned more about the biology of it, it was clear that part of her comedy mind was being replaced by her science mind. Not that she was less funny, but she became more… normal. Really. She learned as much as possible about her case, and of course, reacted to it in a very emotional way, but ultimately harnessed that emotional depth to do as much good as possible. She made people laugh when it was right, and stayed serious when it was right, even though doctors and nurses “wait, expecting me to be funny” (p. 63). And she let herself be stronger, realizing “that you can choose whatever way you want to visualize the battle going on inside your body” (p. 127).
It was tough to read the first-person narrative of one of my heroes’ demise, but ultimately, I feel closer to her. I’m not even sure I can say that, but I do. I feel like I know an infinitely small fraction of her experience, and that knowledge is a powerful thing. She demonstrates just how productive and alive you can be, even when you’re dying, and how much you can learn about yourself in the process. I just wish we all could have seen and heard more from her.
Here are two more favorites. What a delightful woman.
p. 59 // “… always inside me was an introspective poet who never was patient enough to write and wait for a response.”
p. 199 // “People whimpering and hovering over me made me feel like I was dying. People yelling at me made me feel alive.”