Eighteen months ago, up-and-coming young Melbourne comedian, Michael Shafar, was in a good place. He had sold out his first comedy show Jewish-ish at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, and in January 2017 landed a job as a comedy writer for channel 10’s The Project.
Soon after he began to suffer back pain, an enlarged right testicle, and was feeling run-down – who wouldn’t be with so much on his plate. At the urging of his girlfriend he decided to see a doctor, and that only happened because he had a free Friday.
‘I just didn’t put it together,’ explained Michael.
On 20 October 2017, a date Michael readily recalls, he visited his local GP who recommended he take a test. The results showed that Michael, aged 27, had testicular cancer. The diagnosis threw his world into a spin.
‘I was in shock. It’s a crushing and terrifying experience, particularly for those around you. My parents were in Europe at the time and flew back.’
Three days later, Michael had his right testicle surgically removed. They also found the cancer had spread, with 100 tumours in his chest and in his lymph nodes.
For three months, Michael underwent chemo and took blood tests to determine how the tumour was responding to the cancer treatment. In May the tests revealed the tumour markers were back up and another course of treatment resumed in June 2018.
As the treatment progressed, and as energy permitted, Michael kept himself busy behind-the-scenes writing gags for The Project.
He continued working on his own material, which would form the basis of several shows, including upcoming comedy tour 50/50, which deals with Michael’s struggle with cancer.
Michael Shafar is a man of many resources and talents, having completed a Bachelor of Laws with Honours and a Bachelor of Biomedical Science before embarking on his comedy odyssey.
‘I did a clerkship at a law firm and realised I was not in the right job for me. When I opted for a career in comedy, I think my parents thought it was a phase. I’m not sure if my parents were more shocked when I told them I had cancer or when I told them I wanted to be a comedian.
‘But my first course was in biological science. I was considering becoming a doctor with a double degree, except I don’t like blood. It was probably a strange decision in hindsight, but I did learn about pathology tests, which have been a vital part of my treatment and I’m glad Australia has a world-class pathology system.’
And like the behind-the-scenes world of comedy writing where much of the hard graft is done, Michael understands and is appreciative of the behind-the-scenes work pathologists do in the lab.
‘I really have my girlfriend to thank for urging me to see the doctor. Early detection and awareness of any changes in your body is so important.
‘The behind-the-scenes work in the pathology lab has been a really important part of my treatment, helping my oncologist know how the chemo is working. Pathologists diagnose 100% of cancers so it’s a really vital part of Australian healthcare.’
With his latest show 50/50, Michael will be taking his experience of living with testicular cancer on the road, bringing it from behind-the-scenes to centre stage.