Fred's story: Making cancer the punchline

Fred R

Living with cancer since 1991

Fred makes people laugh for a living. But this wasn't always so. Years ago, at the age of 28, Fred was a journalist for a small newspaper. At that time, he decided to quit his job and follow his dream of becoming a stand-up comic. The reason? Cancer. Testicular cancer.

Cancer is a catalyst. You have a pilot light of talent and spirit, and you have to decide what to do with it.

And so Fred began his lifelong journey as a comedian, writer and cancer veteran. After several years on the comedy circuit, he developed quite the stage presence, becoming what he refers to as an ‘insult comic’. "You know, I was one of those guys making fun of this, making fun of that." But after many years of touring, he felt that something was missing from his approach to humour. "I just wasn't finding the soul in it."

Cancer as catalyst: part II

In 2011, almost 30 years after his initial diagnosis, Fred received a second great shock: his testicular cancer had returned, and it had metastasised to his lymph nodes. After enduring more than four months of chemotherapy and finally surgery, Fred did what comes naturally to him: he began trying to make sense of the experience by finding ways to laugh at it. "You know, I clawed and I struggled. I cried. And I fought for this life. I have something to share!"

While in recovery, Fred began working on new comedy material, looking at this difficult experience and finding the humour in it. PET scans and chemotherapy – it was all fair game. "If you can laugh, then you're bigger than the situation." Fred found that not only was laughter cathartic, but it also helped him take control of a stressful situation. It was a way to not let cancer define him and to keep the part of his identity that's most important to him.

What you have to let define you is the spirit that got you through the battle. That's the thing that cancer can't touch.

Through comedy, Fred has found a way to share that spirit with others. "Before I started talking about cancer on stage, people would come up and say, ‘Hey man, you're really funny’. But now, they come up and say, ‘Wow, I was really moved by what you said’. There's a look in their eyes like they have been stirred." Today, at Fred's shows, you can feel the positive energy of the crowd. From the moment he introduces himself as a cancer survivor, people roar and holler and are with him for every moment.

If you do it right, you're powered by the love of other people around you. It gives you a strength you'd never have found by yourself.

Oesophageal cancer

In 2016, Fred learned he had cancer for a third time. This time? Oesophageal cancer. But being a veteran, he knew just what to do. He gathered up all of his determination and brought it to the fight. That year, he underwent two rounds of chemotherapy and a difficult surgery, but he never lost his power to laugh or to bring laughter to others.

These days, Fred brings his unquenchable energy directly to cancer patients through his series of ‘FRED Talks’. He does them at hospitals and chemotherapy centres. His words, stories and insights help people laugh and inspire them to find strength, courage and a shared sense of purpose in the battles they face.

I'm still staying true to what I believe in. And I actually believe it saved my life. The fact is, I know I've made a difference. And I'm happy.

PP-ONC-GBR-2007 /  July 2022