Monday, November 14, 2011

Regis Philbin: An Important Part of My Life Before and After Cancer

When Regis Philbin signs off this Friday on his last “Live with Regis and Kelly”, I will be sad.
There will definitely be a hole in my mornings.
Regis Philbin 
Even before I knew who he was, he was a part of my life. When I was a girl, beginning in the late 60s and into the 70s, people were always saying my dad looked like Regis Philbin. 
At first, I didn’t know who Regis was. Neither did my friends, when someone would tell my dad in front of me, “You know who you look like?” 
My dad
Yeah, my dad would say, Regis Philbin.
I learned from my parents that he was a guy on TV. At the time, he was breaking onto the national scene as a talk show sidekick for Joey Bishop. Then he moved on to local TV and game shows.
But over the past four decades, Regis has become a household name -- THE guy on TV -- holding the Guinness World Record for Most Hours on Camera. And over the last 6-plus years, he’s been a background face and voice in my struggle for health. Because I probably hold the world record for hours spent with a television on.
You watch a lot of TV when you are sick. At least I did.
During much of my lengthy battle with cancer, my brain was too fuzzy to read or concentrate. My family couldn't believe I wouldn't look at a newspaper.  I couldn’t follow the plot of a TV show. For months, I couldn’t move from my waist down, so I couldn’t walk around or look out the window. I spent years in bed, sleeping or paying slight attention to the TV.
A friend bought me a portable CD player, a relative gave me books on tape, my husband and others would buy me musical CDs. But I never used any of them. During my month-long stem cell transpIant hospitalization, I had a portable DVD player and a bunch of discs to choose from. I didn’t use them.
I was so weak and sick, they all seemed like too much of an effort.
Instead, I became dependent on my television for company and distraction. Light shows without a story line were preferable. I learned that technique from my mom, who I visited at home during her cancer battle. She would sit in her recliner, trying to watch a TV program, but falling asleep quite often because of her pain medication.
I remember sitting near her in the family room in the evenings, when she would wake with a start, angry because the crime drama she was watching was over and she didn’t know how it got resolved. (Those were the days before DVR, so you couldn't just rewind.) It just added to her misery.
During the mornings, she loved watching “The View” --- particularly Joy Behar (a Brooklyn native like my mother). And sometimes while watching that show, she would nod off holding her coffee. I would take it out of her hand so she could nap safely. Mom would awake happily, just picking up on the conversation. “I love Joy,” she would say out loud. “I love hearing her accent.” She would laugh out loud at Joy’s jokes.
When I became hospitalized for months and bedridden for years, the television was almost constantly on. I would not have the stamina to watch hour-long shows with plots. But “The View” and “Live with Regis and Kelly” were regulars on my bedside screen.
My dad doesn’t look just like Regis anymore. Only a couple years older than Regis, he once looked like his twin. My dad had the same handsome Irish face, the same curly dark hairstyle and the same endearing smile as Regis. Now my dad’s hair is grayer and the curls are gone. The handsome face and the smile are still the same.
He still looks like Regis to me. A few months ago, a friend of mine who did not know my dad in the earlier days, said to me, “You know who your dad reminds me of, Regis Philbin.”
Now people know who Regis is. He’s been a warm, genial and enduring entertainer. He’s been a welcome presence on my television for years.
And I know he has served that same role for many, many others.
One of my earliest weeks in the hospital, my roommate was a woman in her 90s. Because I was so physically close to her, I knew a lot about her, her health and her family. Her doctor had said there wasn’t anything more they could do for her. It was just a matter of time.
Her family was a source of disappointment, from what I overheard. Too busy to come visit or stay with her. But her paid caregiver would come every day and sit with her. The woman’s personal TV was on quietly for many hours during the day, mostly for the visitor to watch while the patient slept.
But every day at 9 a.m., her caregiver would turn up the volume and holler at the woman, “IT’S REGIS! REGIS IS ON!!”
“She loves Regis,” the caregiver would explain. She would try to awaken the woman for one last show. It worked. The woman would rally a little, then nod off.
“YOURE MISSING REGIS,” the caregiver would shout. “REGIS IS HERE!!!”
After a few days, I was moved out of the room to a rehabilitation wing. But every day when “Live with Regis and Kelly” came on my TV, I wondered if my former roomie had lived to see her Reeg just one more day. 
I am happy to say that I did for more than 6 1/2 years.