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Patient and doctor use humor to lighten up cancer treatments

by Pat Kramer

It is said that humor is good for the soul. No one knows this better than breast cancer survivor Lauren Dombrowski, co-executive producer for the Fox TV comedy series “Mad TV.” City of Hope leaders recently honored Dombrowski and her pitched fight against breast cancer by asking her to speak at the Los Angeles Walk for Hope to Cure Breast Cancer.

All her life, Dombrowski has been making people laugh. But in 2003, her life took a serious turn and she arrived at City of Hope with stage 4 breast cancer after two years of failed treatments elsewhere. It was George Somlo, M.D., co-director of City of Hope’s Breast Cancer Program, who helped restore her faith and rediscover her sense of humor.

“I had been told that Dr. Somlo was very serious before I met him, but I also knew he was one of the best cancer specialists available,” said Dombrowski. “Because he was so accessible and knowledgeable, I felt at ease right away. But it was his quick wit and ability to make me laugh that really helped me the most. I have worked with some of the funniest people in America and Dr. Somlo could face off with any one of them.”

Under Somlo’s care, Dombrowski began a series of chemotherapeutic treatments designed to arrest her cancer. Then she transitioned to monthly chemotherapy, which continues today. Despite the temporary discomforts of her treatment, Dombrowski continues to work and engage in horseback riding, an activity she finds healing.

“One of the things I love most about my doctor is that he doesn’t treat me like a sick person,” said Dombrowski. “While he is concerned that I don’t push myself too hard, he understands my need to ride my horse. And no matter what is going on with my treatment, he is able to find ways, using humor, to make it easier for me to hear.”

Said Somlo: “Lauren is a unique person with great wit and a strong spirit. Humor not only helps her get through ongoing treatments, but it helps her remain focused on the positive outcome of her survivorship.”

As a testament to her doctor, Dombrowski named a character after him in a comedy sketch on “Mad TV,” a nationally broadcast program. And in October, she appeared along with Somlo at the Los Angeles Walk for Hope to Cure Breast Cancer, for which her team, “Team Lolo,” raised $10,000.

“It was a tremendous honor to participate in the Walk for Hope and to be introduced by Dr. Somlo,” said Dombrowski. “There aren’t many positive role models with stage 4 breast cancer, and we, more than anyone, need to hear a message of hope.

“With the treatment I have received, my cancer has been stable for over two years. I want to let others know that even with stage 4, you can enjoy good quality of life with the proper treatment. I’m still making plans for the future: My plan is to hang tough and wait for the cure that is coming.”