Florida Keys News
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Young comic fights cancer with punchlines

ISLAMORADA -- If it's true that laughter is the best medicine, then Coral Shores High School graduate and aspiring comedian Jim Bernardin Jr. should be well on his way to recovery.

Bernardin, 26, was diagnosed in April with Stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. And there's certainly nothing funny about that.

Well, OK, maybe there are at least grains of humor in such a serious situation. So says Bernardin, who has begun dedicating portions of his comedic blog, Nardville, to posts about his fight with the disease.

Bernardin, who does stand-up work and comedic writing in Chicago, where he moved from Islamorada two summers ago, was diagnosed with cancer on April 4. Survival rates are high for those with Stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma, close to 90 percent when it's caught in its early stages, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"It's probably more dangerous to walk down my block at 4 in the morning than to have Hodgkin's lymphoma," Bernardin, who previously worked as an ad designer at the Florida Keys Free Press, joked in an interview last week.

But beating the disease isn't for wimps. If things go as planned, Bernardin is expecting to receive six months of chemotherapy to take out a 15 centimeter cancerous mass in his chest, perhaps followed by radiation treatment.

He'll most certainly lose his hair. And he'll have to deal with plenty of what Bernardin described in one blog post as "drug fueled chemo nausea," which, he added, "is not the best state of being to write jokes in."

But write jokes he will.

For example, it was in Bernardin's April 17 Nardville post that he revealed his cancer.

"If we are friends, brace yourself for a bit of a bummer," he wrote in the buildup. "If we are enemies, ready the cake!"

In an April 22 blog, Bernar-din equated chemotherapy to a thorny relationship with a woman.

"She's so repulsive, medical doctors gave me drugs to cope with hanging out with her," he wrote. "This might be TMI but she tastes really bad, and now my mouth is filled with sores (can't be a good sign). I don't even like naps but she makes me take a lot of them. Get this one, she's so lame, she doesn't let me drink! ... She's one tough ugly wench but I'm not complaining. I think where I'm at in my life right now, she's good for me."

The cancer posts have turned Nardville (http://jimmiebernardin.tumblr.com/) into a minor-league Internet sensation, according to Bernardin. Prior to the cancer revelation, it was mainly viewed by his friends and associates. Now he's regularly receiving messages of support from new readers.

Mainly, he said, that's good news and a source of encouragement. But there's a catch. The blog continues to be an all-purpose comedic forum for Bernardin, including links to his weekly podcasts. And his humor can be crass, broaching themes that are sure to offend more sensitive types, like a friend of a friend's grandmother, a "sweet old cancer survivor," Bernardin wrote, who was none to happy to hear in a recent podcast about some of the uses he was pondering for freezer technology.

Bernardin's father Jim Sr., who owns Islamorada's Pines and Palms Resort, said the news of his son's cancer came like a sucker punch to him and Bernardin's mother, Sara.

But he's not surprised by the fashion in which his son has handled the situation. After all, Bernardin Sr. said, Jim was just a second grader when a doctor informed the family that he suffered from the degenerative eye condition called Stargardt's Disease, which has now rendered him legally blind.

As Big Jim and Sara sat stunned, Little Jim responded, "That's OK you guys, I'll just have the girls pick me up for dates instead."

Seeing their son now incorporate his battle with cancer into his comedic creations has been soothing, Jim Sr. said.

"It's helped us that he is just continuing to be Jim," said the father.

Of course, even a comic sometimes puts the kidding aside. Bernardin says he's trying not to think about a test he has scheduled for next month, which will reveal whether the chemotherapy is working.

In a serious moment last week, he acknowledged that while he tries to find humor in everything, his experience with cancer often "is still too fresh to be funny."

But just a moment later, Bernardin was relating a tale about the woman who sat next to him during a recent chemo treatment expressing confidence that the apocalypse will indeed arrive in December of this year.

"I had to ask her, 'If the apocalypse is coming, then what are you doing here in chemotherapy,'" he recounted, laughing. "I am certainly taking little nuggets of joy out of every day of having cancer."

rsilk@keysnews.com

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