In 2002 Mom and I got a chance to act together in a play called Pitching to the Star, with her brother, Robert Lipton. The three of us on the same stage—that was such a special experience for me. When the play was over, I went to London for four months. Just a couple of days after I came back, Mom was diagnosed with cancer. At 56, she'd gone in for a routine colonoscopy, and her doctors found a stage III tumor. They recommended surgery and chemo immediately.
The minute the word cancer enters your house, everything changes. I felt like a huge anvil had fallen on me. But I knew that action needed to be taken—there were logistics to handle, and my mother needed support. Luckily, both of us now lived in New York, which was a huge blessing.
Chemotherapy is brutal. The goal is pretty much to kill everything in your body without killing you. I wished I could have gone through it for her; I wanted to take the burden off her. Then I figured out a way to help.
I decided my job was to find joyful moments during what could have been a terrifying time for both of us. One time we were in the hospital's chemo suite, waiting for her to be called in for the treatment. There are performers in the waiting room to keep the patients entertained, and on this day there was a guitarist who was playing Simon and Garfunkel songs. He was so earnest, so sweet...and just not good at all. After he left, we laughed so hard. We had that moment of surrender where I thought, "This is kind of hilarious. I can't believe we're here, but thank God we're here together." We told dumb jokes all day; at one point, I started calling my mom "Chemosabe." We laughed so much, she almost seemed to forget she was sick. That summer all we did was laugh.
Just because a situation is grim doesn't mean you don't have every right to smile. It isn't about "being strong" and pretending everything's okay; it's about finding joy where you can. My dad has always said, "Approach life with love and not fear." It's such a dynamic way to live.
I know that in life there will be sickness, devastation, disappointments, heartache—it's a given. What's not a given is the way you choose to get through it all. If you look hard enough, you can always find the bright side.