Lauriel and her mother Saranne Rothberg want to make sick people laugh. Credit: Courtesy of The ComedyCures Foundation.
Saranne Rothberg, founder of the The ComedyCures Foundation
, which uses therapeutic comedy programs to help the sick
Kid: Lauriel, 17
Saranne Lives In:
New York and New Jersey
Why Saranne Is Amazing:
Saranne Rothberg doesn't just drive across the George Washington Bridge, she flies.
Regardless of the weather, she rolls down the window, sticks her arm out and pretends to soar across the Hudson River. She started the ritual in 1999 after she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and given five years to live. Her treatment required her to drive over the bridge every day for 44 days, sometimes with her then 6-year-old daughter, Lauriel.
At the start of her treatment, Saranne wanted to refocus it from something scary and awful to something fun and adventuresome.
"I wanted to make it joyful," she says. "If we flew across the bridge, it was exciting, thrilling. It was the exact opposite of a death sentence."
The treatments needed to be fun because within hours of her diagnosis, the single mother decided to fight cancer with humor. She stopped at a video store on the way home from the doctor's office and checked out every stand-up comedy tape on the shelves. She put her daughter to bed, had a good, long cry and cued up a video.
The idea to battle sickness with humor stemmed from the writings of Norman Cousins, whom she had discovered in college. Cousins, who suffered from arthritis, found that laughter eased his pain. That first night of comedy set the tone for her cancer battle.
"When I was laughing I was not thinking of my mortality," she says. "All of that part of my body that shut down in fear when they said, 'you have cancer,' started to relax. If I could laugh and bring joy into our home I could survive this."
While undergoing chemotherapy, Saranne decided to spread her joy with her fellow patients, doctors and other hospital staff. She even threw a Chemo Comedy Party to celebrate life and laughter during one of her treatments. At the party, she had another idea: To start a charity, called The ComedyCures Foundation
, which would bring humor to sick people.
She decided to take her approach into the "trenches of treatment," she says, and allowed her daughter Lauriel to be a partner in the effort. Together they auditioned comedians to perform at hospitals, stuffed goody bags and choose a logo for the organization.
"Through joy and laughter and comedy, we would nurture people like they were in their mothers' arms," she remembers thinking.
Today, Saranne is cancer-free and ComedyCures is a successful charity that uses therapeutic comedy programs to entertain and educate patients, families and caregivers about the healing power of a comic perspective and the positive benefits of laughter.
"I'm grateful for my cancer," Saranne says. "Without it, I would never have found my life's mission -- figured out my purpose."
Saranne's Daughter Lauriel Says:
"She has more courage and conviction than anyone I've ever met and genuinely gets up every day to do good. I feel that I am lucky to have such a strong woman as a role model, because I think her independence and positive attitude have truly guided my development as a young woman."
Saranne has received the 2007 Yoplait Breast Cancer Champion Award; The Hope for The Future Award; The Making a Difference Award; The Rotarian Humanitarian Award; and The Cancer Superhero of the Year Award.
Saranne's Guilty Pleasures:
Dark chocolate, comedy, USC Football, the Sabbath, spa treatments, meditation, house parties
Saranne's Best Advice:
"Start each day with laughter, gratitude and a guilty pleasure!"
Related: Amazing Mom: Yolande Dumont