Could You Laugh at Cancer?

April 26, 2007
Are you able to poke fun at cancer, as many survivors are able to do even though they are also fighting the disease?

Recently I received an e-mail from a cancer survivor who shared an approach to life I admire. It shows how one can move right through a difficult situation with a bit of humor. Christina, who gave me permission to use her story, wrote:

I thought that others may enjoy my real life experience. Let me start off by saying, I am 27 and have recently survived Breast cancer!

After my first treatment of chemo, all of my hair fell out and it took me months to leave home without wearing a wig. The very first night that I mustered enough confidence to go out with only a ball cap I went into a convenience store and right away noticed the people staring at me. A few people smiled and kept walking but the man behind the counter had something to say.

“Ma’am, are you ok?” he asked, almost wishing he had never said a word.

I smiled and after making my purchase, I lifted my ball cap and said “I lost a bet.”

[The picture comes from the Max Cap Company in England. Also, you’ll find neat hats at Stylish Noggins, whose hats, caps and snoods are not open at the back.]

Christina’s story is a good example of humor in the face of illness. I realize, of course, that joking about cancer is not to everyone’s taste, but I was introduced to laughing at illness through my work with The Wellness Community—Foothills, a cancer support program, in Pasadena, California. That’s where I became acquainted with Sydney Love, a cancer survivor, who has been a past contributor to the Support4Change website.

As I have written in the past, many cancer patients discover humor is a way to let a bit of light into the dark corners of their world. Betty Cea, a lymphoma patient, is one of them. When she emailed me her “Top 10 Reasons I Can’t Be Sick Anymore,” she said:

My hair left, my dysfunctional family whom I love very much stayed, and the cancer has come back. I might as well laugh while I fight … cancer hates a sense of humor …

As with all humor, the pleasure is in the punchline, the unexpected ending or twist to a story. And all such stories are, for me, all the better when they come from quick thinking. Too often my “clever” retorts are obvious when I’m on the way home from a conversation that got overheated, long after we needed something to calm the tension.

When have you been able to defuse a tense situation, or insert a little humor into a depressing situation, by thinking quickly and humorously?

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