"I don't want to meet this with any kind of resistance," said the 47-year-old Broadway star, who was diagnosed 2 years ago with the disease, for which there is no cure
Aaron Lazar is opening up about his diagnosis with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and revealing why he's not focused on trying to fight the disease for which there is no cure, but instead move through life with courage and hope.
The stage veteran — known for two decades of roles on Broadway and on tour in musicals like The Light in the Piazza, Dear Evan Hansen, Les Misérables, A Little Night Music and The Last Ship — went public in January with the news that he had the progressive neurogenerative disorder, after being diagnosed two years ago.
During a candid interview on The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal, the 47-year-old actor and singer explained he's since been on a “healing journey" focused on taking care of his mind, body and spirit.
"When I got diagnosed, I thought, 'Well, my new impossible dream is to beat this,' " Lazar said in the interview that dropped Thursday, referencing the ballad "The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha that's become an unofficial anthem for him. "And then I realized, 'There's nothing to beat.' "
"It's not a fight," he added. "I don't want to meet this with any kind of resistance. I want to meet it with ease and joy and healing. So my impossible dream is possible. It’s just to heal — not just the physical, but my whole self."
Lazar's unwavering positive outlook comes in the face of a brutal illness.
Know also as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control that often begins with spasms and weakness in the hands, feet, arms or legs. Over time, that progresses and worsens to other parts of the body, making it difficult to move, speak, swallow and breathe.
The life expectancy from the time of diagnosis for a person with ALS is three to five years, according to the ALS Association. Death generally results from degeneration or paralysis of the respiratory muscles.
Cause of the disease is unknown, and 90% of cases occur without any known history or genetic cause. Men are 20% more likely than women to be diagnosed, although the incidence is more equal as age increase.
There is no proven treatment for ALS, though exercise can help build strength to maintain muscle function. In September 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had approved Relyvrio, a medicine researchers found slowed the rate of decline in some patients. Its overall effectiveness is still being debated, however.
Lazar told The Broadway Show he began experiencing ALS symptoms — including muscle twitches in his quads, stomach and back — for six months before he was officially diagnosed.
"ALS is hard to diagnose sometimes. It's kind of a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning they just try to rule out a bunch of things and say, 'Well, I guess you have that.' " he said. "...And it's scary for people out there dealing with it. I went through a really, really tough time of anxiety and insomnia and depression for the months leading up to the diagnosis."
Finally learning what he was facing provided a major turning point for Lazar. "Everything changed on the diagnosis. I spent all that time really, really afraid. And then at diagnosis I kind of went, 'Well, for whatever life I've got left, I don't want to be afraid.' "
In addition to medication, Lazar has been supplementing his treatment with medication, art, and spirituality. “I just really take every day as an opportunity to just get better at playing the game of life," he told Broadway.com’s Editor-in-Chief Paul Wontorek in the chat, taped at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall.
That's included asking himself, "How do I want to feel in my life? How do I want to feel sitting here with you right now? How do I want to feel doing the dishes?" he recalled. "I want to feel joyful. I want to feel relaxed. I want to feel at ease."
"My energy when I get out of bed is not, ‘I have A.L.S. and my legs are weak,' " Lazar continued. "I don’t focus on the disease. We create our lives with our perception of our lives. And maybe, I need to really try and give this nervous system some love."
Lazar first spoke out about his ALS diagnosis in an episode of the Carefully Taught: Teaching Musical Theatre with Matty and Kikau podcast that dropped on Jan. 2. There, he called the illness, "a divine opportunity disguised as an impossible situation."
Later that month, he was honored by the Golden West Chapter of the ALS Association with the Essey Spotlight Award, for his commitment to raising ALS awareness around the globe.
Since sharing his story, he's received an outpouring of love from members of the Broadway community, including former costar Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Park, Matt Doyle, Kerry Butler, Max von Essen and Lena Hall. "The Broadway community has just opened their arms and their hearts to me so much," he said on The Broadway Show. "I'm so grateful.”
That gratitude extends to his ALS diagnosis, which he says has allowed him to stop and appreciate every day.
"Sometimes you miss the moment," Lazar said, reflecting on the hustle of show business. "And now I’m learning how to not miss so many of them. It kind of like, full circle for me where I’m like, ‘[Life is] actually beautiful.’ We don’t know anything! So if I can embrace the unknown of it all... and just live in it? That’s what I’m trying to do."
The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal airs weekends in syndication (check local listings).
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