More MS news articles for Dec 2001

A stand-up response to MS

Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine

Dec. 9, 2001. 02:00 AM
George Gamester

Aaay! Welcome to our Comedy Club, friend.

Your timing is perfect, because our most interesting stand-up comedian is just coming on. And heeere she is Chrystal Gomes!

So tell us, Chrystal, did you encounter racial prejudice when you first came to Toronto from Tanzania?

"Some. And we were pretty sensitive about it. I remember my parents pulled me out of Girl Guides because they didn't like me being called a BROWNIE!"

Ouch! Now Chrystal, is it true you're still living with your parents at the family home in Scarborough?

"Yes. I recently spoke to Mom and Dad about finally moving out. But THEY WOULDN'T LEAVE!"

While Chrystal continues her gig, let us tell you the story of a woman named Toodles.

We begin several years ago with this sweet-natured young woman of Indian extraction who has a terrible headache. Maybe if she lies down for awhile ...

"Hope I'm not getting sick," she tells herself. "Just when things are going so well."

Yes, life has been looking up lately for Toodles. Timid and shy as a teen, she'd been a good student at her all-girls Notre Dame high school, but seemed to lose her way in her first year at U of T.

Then, after working at a routine clerical job, she began to travel abroad and it hit her: "Hey, I love travel. Why not make it my work?"

Enrolled in hotel and convention management studies at Centennial College in 1994, Toodles is feeling fulfilled.

Now, if only this headache would go away.

Next morning, the whole left side of her face is numb. "Weird," she thinks, "like when your leg falls asleep."

But this is no trivial pins-and-needles episode. Is it a stroke? A tumour? The tests take two weeks. Finally, the doctor stops by. He is about to leave when Toodles asks: "Do you have the test results?"

"Yes," he replies, looking uncomfortable.


"You have MS," he says.

"What's that?"

"Multiple sclerosis," he replies, scooting out the door. Later, she will learn it was his third MS diagnosis that day.

In the weeks to come, Toodles learns about her affliction from psychiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers. The picture they paint is not pretty.

They tell of an insidious illness of unknown origin that strikes one in 500 Canadians.

A wasting disease that causes short circuits in the electrical impulses carried by the nervous system. A relentless foe that attacks slowly and intermittently with increasing severity. There is no cure.

So it's best to lower your sights, the experts advise. Set small, easily reachable goals. Above all, avoid stress.

"I thought God had played a cruel joke on me," she recalls today. "I was angry, sad, bitter and terrified. I thought my life was over."

Released from hospital with her symptoms in remission, Toodles drops out of school to embark on a safe, risk-free life. Temp work. Passive hobbies. Television. Sleep. And, most of all: Worry.

"Any mention of MS plunged me into depression," she recalls. "Any time I felt a little twinge, I thought it was the onset of paralysis. I was obsessed with it."

Until 1998, when a friend talks Toodles into signing on for a series of self-discovery seminars. She does, and is immediately struck by one of their mottos:

"Live large or go home."

Suddenly, it hits her. She had been living small. Just existing, really. Going through the motions.

As the eight-week course nears its end, participants list 10 dream goals, then pick the one.

And what do you suppose Toodles chooses as her dream? This self-conscious introvert who'd always stayed home "sick" whenever she'd had to make a class presentation at school?

To become a stand-up comedian!

Can you believe it? Her family and friends couldn't.

But here she is now, on our stage: Chrystal (Toodles) Gomes. Aaay Chrystal! Give us some more MS lines ...

"After diagnosing me with MS, my doctor told me to avoid stress. So I stopped ... GOING TO HIM!

"Since being diagnosed, I've learned that when the medical profession speaks, patients need to translate. So when the doctor says, `Laughter is the best medicine,' he's really saying: `THERE'S NO CURE!'"

So how does an insecure, withdrawn person laid low by a dreaded disease wind up joking about her illness on stage?

First, she starts off performing for others at gatherings of her self-help group. (One classmate's flabbergasted response: "Hey, Chrystal can actually talk!") Then begs the manager of the Laugh Resort club on King St. W. to give her a break on amateur night.

Sure, she's shaking on stage and fumbling with cue cards. (So much for avoiding stress.) But the audience likes her. They laugh at her jokes. And not out of sympathy for they don't know about the MS.

"That," she recalls, "was a magic night. It was as if I had finally found the missing parts of my life. I felt whole. I felt accepted."

Since that remarkable epiphany, Toodles/Chrystal has polished her act through New York's respected American Comedy Institute and performed on the GTA comedy club circuit at corporate, private and charitable events.

No, she isn't a headliner yet. And the MS hasn't gone away. But her condition is stable, and she's still looking for a steady day job. What's the latest on that, Chrystal?

"I ride the TTC all the time, so I applied there. I was so disappointed to be turned down for a bus-driving job. Apparently you need ... A DRIVER'S LICENCE. Who knew?"

And what about your love life, Chrystal? Found a guy yet?

"I thought I found Mister Right. But he LEFT!"

Baada-boom! So that's our Chrystal Show, friend. Glad you could make it.

Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited