Comedian Gets Serious for Cancer Society

“I stand before you a cancer survivor who loves her life.”

You could have heard a pin drop after comedian Marcia Wallace made that statement before the 550 guests who attended the luncheon staged by the Orange County unit of the American Cancer Society. In a ballroom studded with cancer survivors, her courageous statement seemed to say it all.

Wallace, who played Carol on the original “Bob Newhart Show,” was diagnosed with breast cancer almost 4 years ago, she said Saturday during the cocktail reception. “And I am so grateful, so thrilled to be alive.”

Her breast tumor was not discovered in a traditional way. She hadn’t had a mammogram or a breast exam. “No, I just had a feeling ,” Wallace said. “A feeling there was something going on. So I went to the doctor and they found the tumor. I’m fortunate because they caught it so early.”

One of her best friends was not so lucky, Wallace told the crowd. She knew she had a lump. But she waited. A year. “And now she’s gone,” Wallace said. “It breaks my heart.”

So Wallace warns women: “Don’t deny the lump. It’s probably benign, and, if it’s not, chances are very good that you will survive. And don’t deny your feelings. Follow your instincts. You have a 95% chance of overcoming the problem.”

Diana Edmunds, chairwoman of the event, said she was one who denied a mole on her breast. “I was too embarrassed to have it removed,” she said. “Can you imagine?” But during a medical exam on her son, she summoned up the courage to show the mole to the doctor. It was melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. “I shouldn’t even be here,” Edmunds said. But she, too, became a survivor. It’s that miracle, along with the loss of her mother to cancer 5 years ago, that keeps her working to raise funds for the cancer society, she said.

After lunch, Edmunds took the podium to bestow awards upon society volunteer Ardiste Reis Ladin and former Los Angeles Rams player Johnnie Johnson. Johnson “has sent footballs, made personal appearances, done just about everything he could,” said Edmunds, who noted that the football star was moving from Huntington Beach to Seattle to play for the Seahawks.

During lunch, Johnson talked about why he cares so much. “Six years ago, I lost one of my teammates to cancer,” he said. “Before he died, he asked me if I would do something to help people. So here I am.

“You wonder why certain things happen. I mean, here was Kirk Collins, a 25-year-old guy who was just about to step on top of the world, and something happened over which he had absolutely no control. I’ve learned never to complain. And to remember that at least I have control over what I attempt to do, which is to lend a helping hand.” Event proceeds were estimated at $30,000.

C’est si bon: “Oooh La La! Au Bon Temps!” That’s the title of the dinner dance set for April 22 at Le Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach.

But, mon cher, what does it mean? “It means ‘To the good times!’ ” said Sandra Beigel, chairwoman of the bash to be staged by the Sound of Music chapter of the Guilds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. “To the good life!” (To the good life France has known since the Revolution, Beigel said. “We decided on a French theme because this is the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.”)

Beigel--looking very much the Francophile in a harlequin-style cocktail suit by Yves Saint Laurent--was among guests at Sunday night’s chic nod to ball underwriters.

Talk about the good life. Party-goers gathered in Antoine restaurant’s posh anteroom to tip flutes of champagne and dine in its mirrored salon on smoked salmon drizzled with caviar butter, veal chop with light green pea sauce and dark and white chocolate mousse with cherries.

Always the fashion plate, Beigel said the gown she will sport at the ball will be the one she didn’t get to sport--"I got the flu"--at President Bush’s inaugural gala. It’s a knockout, a silvery number with spangles. The idea, after all, is to wear an ensemble that “makes you feel happy,” Beigel said. “And my gown makes me feel sparkly.”

Sound of Music President Sue Perewozki--sporting Chanel and a bevy of chains--said the chapter has been very busy since its season began in September. “There was the brunch with a couture fashion show by Saks,” she said. “The showing of Bulgari jewels at the Four Seasons, the Christmas lunch at the Ritz, a patron party at Judy Duke’s house in Spyglass Hill, the underwriter’s party and soon the ball.” And then? “And then the ball celebration party in June at Jan Lind’s house on Linda Isle.”

It’s that kind of social whirlwind that helps make the Sound of Music chapter the one that annually donates more money to the Center than any other chapter. “We’ll clear $60,000 at the ball,” said Catherine Thyen. Faces in the crowd: Jerry Beigel; Linda Smith, ball co-chairwoman; Shari and Harry Esayian; Dr. Delane Thyen; Roger and Candice Schnapp, and Jose Perewozki.