“I didn’t understand anything about dating,” he said. “I was just playing catch up. Even out of college and in my 20s, I was always trying to pretend to be an adult.” In an hour of conversation, this was the closest she came to acknowledging that pediatric cancer hadn’t been quite a walk in the park.
Bayer didn’t mind lending Joanna her medical history: she’s never been shy about her diagnosis. When she was a teenager, she used it to win a trip to Hawaii for her family, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She (She had thought about asking to meet Jared Leto, but she finally decided that she would rather meet him as a partner. Years later, she did). Colleagues on “SNL” have heard her talk about leukemia just to get free ice cream, which is consistent with the advice she offered during our interview: If she’s sick, use it to get what she can.
Bryant said, “She always takes things that are difficult and turns them into something she can use to empower herself or use to her advantage.”
Little by little Joanna took shape, a woman more cautious than Bayer and more atrophied, with the same fondness for snacks and her same gift for grotesque improvisation but none of her obvious success. A woman lying about having cancer shouldn’t be a woman to root for, but Bayer has a way of communicating a kind of desperate glow that makes terrible things seem less terrible, simply because he does them with such enthusiasm.
What the camera recognizes is what Shannon, who was also a survivor of major childhood trauma (her mother, younger sister and a cousin died in a car accident), identified as a shared joy and determination to get the most out of life.
“We don’t take it for granted,” Shannon said. “We feel so lucky to be alive. Real.”
There are many stories about diseases. (Admittedly, there are fewer of them set in the world of home shopping.) But this is one, with its snacks and sun and its heroine’s determination to exploit her false diagnosis as much as he can, that apparently only Bayer can tell.
“I always wanted to do something when I was sick,” she said happily, as the soft chaos of Central Park swirled around her. “Specifically, the fun I had.”