Phil Hochman: Laughing Through Lymphoma


Inappropriate.  Hilarious.  Absolutely inspiring.  Talk to Phil Hochman for more than five minutes, and those words are likely to spring to mind.  From jokes about blue ice falling from airplanes to slightly ribald riffs on cancer treatment, Phil's entire approach to survivorship has been based around a zest for life and love of humor. 

 

Part 14 - How I Talk to Other Patients 

 

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About Phil Hochman

Phil Hochman

Today, at 89, Phil Hochman is an active member of The Improvables, an improv comedy troupe based in NJ.  He and his wife of 36 years volunteer as standardized patients for first year med students at UMDNJ.  Also, he underwent a triple bypass surgery just last year.
 
"It could be cat scratch fever or it could be cancer," Phil recalls his doctor telling him during a 1992 visit.  "Turns out, it was cancer.  I felt like I'd been hit in the head by a two-by-four.  I was sitting in front of my television, not paying attention, thinking'I'm gonna die.  I'm gonna die.'  over and over again.  Then, it hit me like an anvil in a cartoon: 'Hey, Hochman, you have control over your life.  You control how you handle this."
 
"I rolled over and went to sleep.  If I was going to go through this crap, I was going to make it an adventure.  And I did.  Every time I'd go in, I'd see how I could drive the nurses crazy."
 
Beginning with chemo to treat his Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 1992, through multiple re-diagnoses and other health challenges, he is determined to enjoy every moment of life he's given.  And he's equally determined to bring those around him along for the ride.  "With cancer, ther's never a complete cure.  For me, it's been a series of relapse and remission.  There's always one cell hiding somewhere.  I treat it like a chronic condition.  I don't sweat it anymore."
 
It's a message he shares with the patients he's matched with through the Cancer Hope Network.  "Everyone worries about dying from cancer.  You have to live your life as best you can."
 
Two years after his diagnosis, Phil took a comedy improv course.  He hit it off with Johnny Mac ("He's like a son to me now"), an upcoming comedian.  Phil proceeded to win a few contests and open mic nights and has been hooked ever since.  He helped start The Improvables in 2002 and won the chance to do 10 minutes on Catch a Rising Star in 2011.  He continues doing regular shows with The Improvables and on his own, including a gig on the LoLo Radio Show in 2016.
 
Late last year, Phil and his wife Karen celebrated 36 years of marriage.  To hear him tell it, she has the patience of a saint.  "When I was having my heart attack, nobody panicked," he recalls.  "She's the love of my life, my best friend.  She's everything.  I'm a very very lucky man."
 

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