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Book Review: Cancer on Five Dollars a Day (chemo not included): How Humor Got Me Through the Toughest Journey of My Life by Robert Schimmel

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In 2000, Robert Schimmel really had the world by the tail. He was a successful stand-comedian and was just about to start filming a sitcom for Fox. And then he got sick. It was another example of what he calls "The Schimmel Effect."

Cancer on $5 a Day (chemo not included) is comedian Robert Schimmel's recollections of his battle with stage three non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and what he went through during the treatments. The book was first published in January of 2008 in hardcover. It was reprinted in paperback in January of 2009 to coincide with Robert Schimmel's Showtime special Life Since Then and its DVD release.

True to his calling, Schimmel approached his cancer diagnosis with humor. He made everyone around him laugh. When he sat down next to a miserable looking man for his first chemotherapy treatment, he was told to not bother trying to talk to him and that he was too bitter to get through to. Within minutes, Schimmel had the man laughing. He made the people in his cancer support group laugh. As he says in the book, "they need the distraction, the change of pace, the release."

After his cancer diagnosis, Schimmel moved in with his ex-wife (they had been divorced three times) and his children. His wife vowed that she would get him through the treatments. It wasn't the first time cancer had attacked the family, their eleven-year-old son Derek had died of a brain tumor a few years before. Schimmel also wanted to be close to his children in case he did not survive. Before he moved to Arizona for his treatments, he broke off with his current girlfriend, the love of his life. He didn't want to burden her with his diagnosis.

Once his treatments were completed, Schimmel moved back to Los Angeles and picked up his stand-up career. He incorporated his cancer into his act; even showing slides of him during his treatments. The change prompted stading ovations every night. Schimmel also became a person cancer sufferers and those with relatives were drawn to. He never failed to talk to them after the show. In the introduction to the book, Schimmel's co-author Alan Eisenstock tells the story of a young man who had lost his father to cancer. After waiting to talk to Schimmel after the show he broke down. Schimmel held him until he came back to himself.

Throughout the book, Schimmel often states that remaining positive helped to get him through. I totally agree with this. It is not a Pollyannish "everything will be okay just as long as you think positively," it is the belief that you will survive and you will come out the other end. Of course, the treatments are hell and some days you don't want to get out of bed. But believing that you will definitely get better goes a long way in helping you to remain strong.

Cancer on $5 a Day
was a very fast read; I read it in less than three hours. As a cancer survivor, I am always interested in reading what other people's experience with the disease has been. Schimmel certainly did not disappoint; he tells his story without pulling any punches. His language may offend some but it is who Robert Schimmel is. Cancer on $5 a Day is written in a friendly, relaxed manner that helps the reader to immediately empathize with Schimmel's plight. I plan to pass this on to another person I know who just recently completed chemotherapy treatments.

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