It’s said that laughter is the best medicine. So it’s no surprise that after a particularly challenging flare up, of what I now know to be the rare autoimmune condition igG4 related systemic disease, I turned to a bootleg copy of the newly released Kings of Comedy for relief in 2000.
I was mildly amused until Bernie Mac came out. He didn’t just tell jokes, he told stories laden with humor; that’s what had me hanging on his every word. The only paint I felt during his set was my sides aching from laughter.
Like millions of Americans, I went on to watch his show. But, I saw things many others may have missed. As a person taking prednisone to keep my condition under control, I was aware that he looked like me. What I mean is he starting to develop “moon face;” the kind of bloating associated with the steroid prednisone. I didn’t know what was wrong with him but I knew there was something.
I became a fan. I watched him play supporting parts in movies like Bad Santa and I yearned to see more. Sadly, there wouldn’t be much more. My mouth hung agape like nearly everyone else when I learned he died at age 50 of Sarcoidosis.
I unfortunately knew way too much about Sarcoidosis. For years, I underwent repeated chest X-rays as doctors tried to attribute my symptoms to that disease because it’s prevalent in African-Americans. I didn’t have it but unfortunately he did.
Nearly six years after his death, when I was writing my memoir about my own battle with an autoimmune disease, I reached out to Bernie’s widow Rhonda McCollough. She did know my story but she knew the havoc his condition wreaked. I shared my manuscript with her and she kindly agreed to write the forward to my book, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House. In it, she discussed her fight to get Bernie to keep him alive. Although, she couldn’t save her husband, she wanted to save someone.
Unfortunately, when another surgery made me doubt my survival I put out my book without her forward. But, I remained in touch with people from the foundation Bernie established to educate about the disease that robbed the world of his talent.
So, in honor of what would’ve been Bernie’s 58th birthday, the Bernie Mac Foundation is asking everyone to wear purple on October 5th. Purple is the color of Sarcoidosis awareness. I’m going to wear it; that’s the least I can do to repay him for all he gave me. How about you?
About the author:
Nika C. Beamon is a journalist working in New York. She is the author of the memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House, about her 17 year journey to find the right medical diagnosis while balancing a relationship and career.
In 2009, Chicago Review Press published her first non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married. She is also the author of two mystery novels, Dark Recesses and Eyewitness.
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