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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cancer Can't Dance Like This

Why a One-Man Show &  Laugh Therapy Socials Are Changing our Healthcare System

 For the past few months, I have been working with Zal Press, founder of Patient Commando Productions, to build his new organization from the ground-up.  I've learned a whole lot and have had a lot of fun, and am excited to announce our feature show launch this Thursday at CBC Glen Gould studio.

So what is Patient Commando and what do we do?
Patient Commando uses the patient narrative to change the relationship between patients and patient providers through theatre, comedy, improvisation workshops and live testimonials.

As a chronic patient suffering from Chron's Disease for 30 years, Zal Press decided to phase out of his successful business to start up Patient Commando.  Throughout these 30 years, Zal felt the apathy of healthcare providers, he saw the weaknesses of the healthcare system, and read about the needless epidemics and diseases caused by lack of real understanding of the patient's experience.

Patient Commando targets healthcare providers of all kinds and uses chronic patients' stories to foster an understanding of the patient's perspective, to ultimately trigger behavioural change. For the chronic patients, we aim to increase their sense of empowerment to know their rights and manage their own healthcare.  

Zal Press, Founder of Patient Commando Productions
As most would agree, there are many weaknesses within our healthcare system, and professionals are actively working to find the right solutions.  They've been trying different approaches for years.  Zal explained this to me a couple of months ago and threw out this question:  If we haven't been able to solve much, who is the one person yet to be engaged in the decision-making process? 

The patient of course!...the person the entire system was designed for.

Using the arts, laughter, and real stories is an innovative approach to solving major barriers to improved healthcare.  By engaging hospitals, medical associations, medical schools, and the various other health institutions in our system, Patient Commando is targeting the people who have the potential to create some serious change.

           What's happening on Thursday?
Lilah Petersiel, Neuroblastoma survivor
This Thursday, Patient Commando Productions is launching with its first show: Cancer Can't Dance Like This. Performed by cancer survivor Daniel Stolfi, this play will take you through his journey of survival while making you laugh your guts out. Like all of our shows, the proceeds from Thursday's performance will be donated to a health/disease-related charity, in this case, Lilah's Fund.   

So how does a "Laugh Therapy Social" come into play, and frankly, what the heck is it?
Patient Commando's strategy is made up of four pieces: Shows, a Speakers Bureau, Membership Services for patients, and lastly, Laughter Therapy Socials.  Our Creative Director and award-winning alumnus of "The Second City", Brian G. Smith leads sessions that allow people to step out of their comfort zones, break down the tensions and anxieties within teams, and most of all, laugh.  Using improv activities at the core of these sessions, Laughter Therapy Socials will have healthcare teams break out of their shells to one another and their patients.

Me (middle) and my "siblings", exchanging gifts on our "birthday".
As a pump-up for the Patient Commando team, I had the opportunity to participate in a Laughter Therapy Social last week.  It was my first time meeting almost everyone in the room, so naturally, this kind of activity was a tad intimidating at first. Within minutes of starting the session, Brian had us making strange noises, making up stories feeding off of one another, and laughing ourselves to tears.  

Social entrepreneurs like Zal Press see major problems and do not settle for the traditional, ineffective ways to solve them.  They combine forces with various sectors, think completely out of the box, and take a risk on something new and innovative.  Thursday night marks the beginning of a new journey for the healthcare system, and I hope you consider joining the fun.


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