Columnist Chronicles Battle With Cancer: Humor Helps

By: A sense of humor helps, Lauren Terrazzano says, when you're dying of cancer. If there's a heaven, the newspaper columnist wrote recently, she plans to have a drink with John F. Kennedy Jr., who crashed near Martha's Vineyard, and then "thwack him on the head for flying that night in the fog."

And, if she somehow winds up in hell, she wants to meet the guy "who invented the tape that keeps your IV in place. I will proceed to wrap him in it, like a mummy, and then peel it off. Slowly.

"I hope he is very hairy."

Described by colleagues as a tenacious, hard-nosed street reporter, Terrazzano has drawn praise for sharing her own story in "Life, With Cancer," a column she has been writing in the Long Island newspaper Newsday since October. Diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago at age 36, her right lung has been removed and she has undergone extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

In a recent column, she announced that doctors have given her two to three months to live.

"The disease has advanced despite all of these treatments and we really don't know what the future holds," said Terrazzano, who covered the JFK Jr. plane crash, the TWA Flight 800 disaster and many other high-profile stories in the decade she has been with Newsday.

She continues to cover news for the paper when she's able, in addition to writing the column that runs every Tuesday.

Terrazzano recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary, with New York Times reporter Al Baker.

In her columns, Terrazzano has written about the inappropriate things people say to cancer patients because they don't know what else to say, and about breaking the myth that people with cancer are heroes, "when really we're just like everyone else."

She has taken shots at the tobacco marketers, opined about aspiring first lady Elizabeth Edwards' battle with cancer and written about the stress the disease has on loved ones.

The response to her column, Terrazzano said, has been "staggering."

"I expected response on a local level, but I've gotten at this point thousands of e-mails from readers, some as far away as Saudi Arabia.

"Readers mostly thank me for having the guts to say what they'd like to say, and for 'getting it' from the perspective of a cancer patient. Nothing makes me happier than when someone clips out my column and puts it on their refrigerator," she said.

Karen Joy Miller, a breast cancer survivor who heads a support group in the Long Island city of Huntington, said her organization is buzzing about the column.

"She has lung cancer, but it's not about one type of disease," Miller said. "Her column has increased awareness to the challenges that we all face. It allows a lot of people who are reticent to tap into their own feelings and insecurities."

"Lauren's struggle, unfortunately, is not unique," said Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association of New York. "Her column has really hit home with a lot of people."


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