Judy Fabjance is funny. Cancer is not.
But the cancer that recently moved into the Mount Prospect native's brain still must share that head space with the always active mind of the longtime Second City performer, instructor and creator of the one-woman show titled "Are You There, Judy? It's Me, Cancer."
"You just can't help find the humor," says Fabjance, who turns 38 next month. Acknowledging that tests on Sept. 1 delivered the crushing news that her headaches were the result of the cancer attacking her brain, Fabjance somehow focuses on the limited musical options available during the conclusive MRI.
"You can listen to The Eagles, or you can listen to classical music or Frank Sinatra. I chose Frank Sinatra and that makes me laugh," Fabjance says. "I think, 'I can use this,' so I put that it in the back of my mind for later."
Simply getting to later is the goal now. Fabjance's grueling cancer odyssey began on Halloween night in 2008, when she found a small lump in her right breast and became so alarmed that she drove to a health clinic for an ultrasound and a mammogram even though her car had a flat tire. She was in the auto shop when the doctor called to say, "It doesn't look good."
She scheduled her mastectomy on Christmas Eve because she didn't want to miss her teaching slots at Second City, which has become her second home, her second family. A founder of a GayCo, a revolutionary comedy troupe specializing in gay humor since 1996, Fabjance performed her show about her cancer fight to good reviews.
"I thought I was done, that I was in the clear," Fabjance remembers thinking as she was in her fourth year of remission. "But it keeps coming back."
Her chemotherapy this time around fought the breast cancer and its spread to her lungs, ribs and spine, but "unfortunately, the chemo doesn't work for the brain," says Fabjance, who is undergoing 15 rounds of radiation for that. She'll find out today if that radiation is shrinking the cancer in her head.
Her strong support system includes parentsStephanie and John Fabjance (she's a registered nurse in the cancer unit at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, he's a professional magician), siblings Tom, Gary and Cathi Fabjance, fiancee Keely Beeman, 6-year-old daughter Daphne and her Second City family. All are part of the Fundraising Benefit for Judy Fabjance dinner and show starting at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rolling Meadows Community Center, 3705 Pheasant Drive, in Rolling Meadows. Visit payitsquare.com and search for "Judy Fabjance" or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Starting her showbiz career as a St. Raymond School elementary student in the church Christmas show in Mount Prospect, Fabjance was 15 when she took her first improv classes. She spent every free night at the Second City shows then playing in Rolling Meadows. The legendary comedy institution hired her the following year. When she graduated from Prospect High School in 1992, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fed, Amy Sedaris, Nia Vardalos and other people from her part-time job came to her graduation party in the Fabjance home in Mount Prospect.
Having supported her throughout her cancer treatment, her old Second City friends contribute to this latest fundraiser. Raffle prizes include VIP tickets for TV's "The Colbert Show" and "Saturday Night Live" as well as other donations from her celebrity friends. And there's more.
"We've had huge support from people we haven't seen since grade school," says Cathi Fabjance, who organized the fundraiser as a way to allow her younger sister to spend less time working and more time with her daughter, Daphne, who has been with her mom through every step of the cancer fight.
"She's seen everything but the radiation pictures because I thought the mask would be too scary for her," says Judy Fabjance, who explains that the futuristic mask holds her head still during treatment.
"I've never cried in front of her until this weekend," Fabjance says. "When I was singing a bedtime song, I just started sobbing, and we had this beautiful moment. I said I was scared and didn't want to have cancer anymore, and just wanted to be with her and see her grow up."
"It's OK, Mommy," Daphne said as she touched her mom's face, stroked her arm and soothed her tears.
"She wanted me to tell everyone that she calmed me down," Fabjance says. "It was a great moment for us. That moment we had was perfect."
And it didn't even have to be funny.