discoveries magazine

Improv After Cancer

comedy, improv, medicine, cancer, Guilio Bonasera, Cedars-Sinai

Guilio Bonasera

Improvisation has taken center stage in helping women recover from breast cancer, thanks to a Cedars-Sinai clinical trial. Arash Asher, MD, director of Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship, helped create an improv comedy class and is evaluating its benefits to patients.

As anyone who has ever taken an acting course knows, improv involves performing without a script. But instead of being concerned with participants' perfect timing, Asher is exploring the therapeutic advantages of mindfulness. "They can be present in the moment, connect authentically with other people and do away with self-judgment," he says.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t laughs to be had. Course leaders include comedian and Emmy-nominated writer Shelly Gossman, a Second City alum whose credits include Saturday Night Live. She has also faced cancer and beaten it—twice.

"You don’t lose your sense of humanity and wonder and laughter when you are sick," Gossman told NBC News, which produced a story about the program.

So far, Asher is optimistic about the outcomes for participants. "Improv has made a big impact on depression, on anxiety, on wellbeing."