Scleroderma and Graduate School

Karen Vasquez on stage at Flappers Comedy Club holding a microphone in her left hand.  Her hands are visibly damaged by scleroderma.
I’m still here.

Scleroderma is a progressive degenerative autoimmune condition. Survival rates are unpredictable. There are many who don’t make it past the five-year mark. I am one of the lucky ones.

In October of 1994, I was diagnosed with scleroderma. I did not expect to see my thirtieth birthday. In September of 2019, I had my midpoint review where I proposed my thesis project for my MFA in Film and Television at Mount Saint Mary’s University. I’m not really surprised I’m still here. Not because I found specialists who saved my life more times than I can count, but my giant ego had me convinced that scleroderma was not going to kill me because I’m a Scorpio and we’re very stubborn.

When I was diagnosed, patients were advised to get their affairs in order upon diagnosis. There is still no cure. but we’re living longer thanks to effective symptom treatment. And now we’re about to have our first FDA approved medication for scleroderma itself.
-> LINK

In addition to being a Scorpio, the work of patients, caregivers, nurses, doctors, and researchers are the reason I’m still here.

It took a lot of mental health treatment to get me through the past 26 years. Scleroderma has done a great deal of damage, but it seems to have stopped progressing. Sometimes I believe I could be in remission, and sometimes I just have no idea. The important part is I feel like I have lived through the worst of scleroderma. Now it’s all about maintaining what I have, and continuing to have a fulfilling life.

When I began graduate school for my MFA in Film and Television, I planned to make my emphasis screenwriting. My intention was to learn to produce and film my work. I thought my thesis project would be a TV series or movie, but thanks to the encouragement of my professors, my thesis project will be a stand-up comedy special/documentary, starring me.

WHAT THE WHAT?!!!

It takes years for stand-up comedians to find their voice. After that, they hit the road and build their material and if they’re lucky, a fan base. Most comedians never get the opportunity to have filmed a comedy special. Production costs, crew wages and million other things that add up to one thing- money to do it. I’ve only been doing stand-up for six years. That’s not very long. But thanks to film school, I’ve committed to filming a special in October of 2020.

The easy part will be producing. Okay, it’s not exactly easy, and the real work is done in comedy clubs. I could have the most produced comedy special ever, but if I don’t have the skills and tested material, the special will suck. So I’m in the process of filming an audition tape, sending it out and hitting the road in 2020.

Currently, I am in pre-production. This is where I create a budget. But unlike a feature or series, I need to tour to make myself a better performer and craft my set for the special. There’s no at-home rehearsal for stand-up comedy. In the past, I did it within a 100-mile radius. In the spring and summer of 2020, I will be out there on the grind.

Graduate school has given me the unique opportunity of access to equipment and guidance from faculty who work in production, screenwriting, sound design and editing. My biggest challenge is that I have to film this sooner than later because I can’t be in graduate school forever, so I am all in.

I’ve been writing this since 1994. Now, it’s time to get out there and make the world laugh at what scares me, but I am going to need your help.

As soon as I figure out the budget, I will be starting a Go Fund Me campaign to film the special. But right now, I’ve got to get on the road, which is kind of a tour. I will drive and when possible, fly all over the country to do open mics, get booked in dive bars and audition for larger venues across the country. I will be maxing out my student loans, but that won’t be enough.

Because of my medical issues, I have to be selective about where I sleep, etc and working a side hustle like Uber or Lyft while on the road could put me in the hospital. First and foremost, I must put my health first.

If you’d like to help out, please visit my Patreon page where you can subscribe or make a one-time donation. A monthly subscription will get you benefits like access to behind the scenes coverage, a video blog and whatever else I can think of to keep you entertained.

I’m going to make some swag with that turtle logo I’ve had forever. Eventually, I will create a GoFundMe campaign to pay my crew, cover venue costs, equipment rental, and post-production. I want to hire only experienced, working professionals.

I’m pondering a podcast that will include parts of my adventure that might be helpful to other patients and their caregivers. Do people really want to hear me yammering on about scleroderma? But I really can;t shut up about it. Let me know what you think.

Thank you for reading.