First Radiation, Then a Check off the Bucket List
By Marianne Aleardi

 


Queen Stewart was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the end of 2021. We continue our special series following her as she continues her cancer treatment and her quest to live a full life.

On a Wednesday morning this past summer, Queen Stewart headed to her 5th day of radiation – part of 6 straight weeks of treatment for her Stage 3 breast cancer. Only this day was a little different, because later that evening, she’d be taking the stage to do something she’d never done before: stand-up comedy.

“I always felt I was funny. And during my treatment, I told myself I would try to do things I’ve always wanted to do,” says Queen, “and comedy was one of them.”

She had looked online and found a comedy club in Philadelphia offering a course on stand-up comedy. “It was perfect: 3 hours on Sundays for 6 weeks,” she says. “I signed up, went to the first class and met other like-minded people who think they’re funny too. I wanted to learn how to be funny on stage, so that’s what I did.”

In the weeks that followed, Queen continued her treatment while gathering observations that would become material for her jokes. “Like, one of my jokes is about how me and my Nana are vibing off our painkillers together. I also talk about how many throw blankets I’ve gotten as gifts since I started treatment, especially the ones with the nice sayings on them. We learned in class that the number-one rule is you have to be relatable. Everyone can relate to those throw covers. If you’re really sick, someone will be gifting you a throw for some reason. I have about 10.”

“What we learned in class was really interesting,” Queen adds. “If you’re a fan of stand-up comedy, you think comedians are just funny, so they can go on stage and do stand-up. But that’s not the case. There are certain formulas and tips and tricks to it. If you don’t set up your joke a certain way, it won’t work. No matter how funny you think you are, it won’t be funny. That’s what our instructor taught us. You have to think: How can I formulate this joke in a way where people actually laugh? That was the hard part. It takes some thought.”

“The first thing our instructor said to us was, ‘I can’t make you funny.’ When we would go on stage to practice, everyone would give each other feedback. My classmates pushed me to think more about how to make comparisons, analogies, exaggerations. They helped me push my brain to think outside the box.”

The comedy course culminated in that Wednesday-night stand-up show – ­the class’s graduation, where Queen and her fellow classmates performed to a packed house of family and friends.

“After radiation that day, I was trying to stay calm,” Queen says. “I have a whole routine when I finish, because it’s important I take care of my skin. I go into the bathroom and put on a steroid cream that was prescribed for me. I slather that all over, and it sits there for 5 hours. I shower later, and then I put on a whole other layer of moisturizer. But that whole day, I was on a cloud. It was like an out-of-body experience. We had prepared hard. I’d been practicing my jokes for weeks. I kept thinking, “Oh my god, this is happening. I’m going to stand up in front of a crowd. But I was trying to keep myself calm. Stress isn’t good for cancer. I wanted to stay mellow and just tend to my skin.”

“I did think I had an advantage, though, because I’m a trial attorney,” she says. “You could say I’ve already performed in front of strangers. I’ve had to convince jurors. I trained for that, and I enjoy that. So I do think I have an advantage when it comes to performing in front of strangers. But it’s harder to perform in front of family and friends. I was worried about what they’d have to say.”

But of course, there was no need to worry.

“People were laughing, and I was so happy,” Queen says. “So many people came out to see the show ­– old co-workers, law school friends, family. The whole audience was so supportive. It’s the best kind of show you can ask for. Our instructor told us, ‘Listen guys, everyone’s clapping for you. You feel really good, but um, don’t expect this all the time.’ But it was really nice.”

“I was proud of myself. And to think…” Queen’s voice cracks here, as she starts to realize all that she has accomplished.

“I don’t get emotional in the day to day. But when I stop and think about it all, that’s when it hits me. I never, never would have done this before. But I went online, found a course and completed it. I have an immense amount of pride in myself. I have this attitude now of ‘Go ahead, Queen. Do whatever you want to do.’ When you have an attitude like that, you can accomplish anything.”

That attitude has been motivating Queen pretty much since she started her treatment last year. She says it’s become part of her mission to pass that motivation to others, so they realize the importance of living life fully today.

“This is how people should live,” she says. “Of course, you have to be responsible, and you have to be there for your family, but you also have to do things for yourself. You’ll have thoughts that come into your brain, like doubt, but you have to correct that. I’m trying to really tweak my thinking so I can keep this type of behavior going, so I can keep doing what I want to do. I hope I’m like this for the rest of my life.”

The next item to cross off the bucket list is recording a song. Queen’s brother-in-law, who works as a music producer, has written a song that she plans to record. “When you hear it, you’ll see that it’s perfect,” she says. Queen also just got back from a spur-of-the-moment trip to Europe.

“That came out of nowhere. I jumped on a friend’s trip for the first week, and then my husband met me in Barcelona,” Queen says. “This is something I would never have done before. I would have been like, ‘No, we can’t afford it.’ I would have been focused on getting clients and building my practice. I would have said I should wait for a reason to celebrate – like a 50th birthday. I would never have thought I could be happy following my dreams now. But why wait? You really could be full of joy right now.”

 

September 2022
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