Finding humor in treatment

This entry was written by one of our volunteers:

It really isn’t funny, you know.  It’s serious.  The whole thing.  Life-threatening.  So, no laughing.  Cut it out.  Be serious. Just wipe that smile off of your face.

Except we can’t, can we?  Not always.  But be honest: aren’t there times when you look around and think, “I’m in the middle of a Mel Brooks movie except no one knows but me!”

Now this is the important message.   YOU MUST LAUGH.

Photo credit: Laurie Beck Peterson

You’ve already cried way too much.  It’s time to find the laughter. Sometimes the laughter stays hidden for a really long time and sometimes it shows up at the strangest time.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer (22 years ago), my husband and I were sitting in my breast surgeon’s office, receiving the bad news.  A few days before we had learned the results of the biopsy, but this was the “what do we do now” appointment. The tone was quite somber, of course.  Before the doctor outlined my choices he asked how my general health had been.  I told him I felt fine, but that I had recently had a head cold.  And then the moment arrived!  A slow smile spread across my face, the first one since “this” began.  And I said, with a big smile on my face: “But I guess it went to my chest!” 

Ok, maybe not the funniest line ever, but that was the moment I knew I could be ok. I knew if I could find a joke (feeble as it might have been), then I could find more reasons to smile and to laugh.  And I did.  I even found a doctor who understands my sense of humor and who makes me laugh. This past summer I found out I had a 2nd recurrence, a 2nd time with bone mets.  The first had been 18 years ago, so this really knocked me down.  And I stayed down for a while.  But by the time we got to my wonderful, funny oncologist (a funny oncologist??) the stress lifted and we laughed through the entire appointment.  We laughed at cancer, at the absurdity of all of this…we even laughed at our laughter.  And you know what? It felt really good.

Sometimes I have to get out of my head, out of the wondering, worrying, wishing.  Treatment pulls me back to those difficult places: I start to resent the familiar smells, the look of the waiting rooms, even the nurse’s nail polish.  I hate belonging where I don’t want to be. So I make a conscious effort to look for something that will at least make me smile.  I watch old funny movies (may I recommend “The Producers”-the old one and any Marx Brothers movie), I talk to my funny friends (they must promise to be funny and not quiet and “sensitive”). 

And occasionally in the waiting area at the doctor’s office, I find a kindred spirit, someone who is able to pull me away from the awful reality of this for a few minutes.   Have you had these moments?  Care to share them?  We can all use a good laugh.


Photo credit: Laurie Beck Peterson


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5 thoughts on “Finding humor in treatment

  1. Thank you so much for this post. During my treatment, I kept Netflix busy with a constant stream of funny and uplifting movies. I focused on the love in my life and the humor in the absurd changes in my body and new lifestyle. Even when the treatment is over, the fear of relapse nips at your heels, so it’s important to keep that positive focus. I surround myself with happy people and exciting projects. Although cancer is no laughing matter, it made me relish the joy of every living moment and look for more. Long story short, one of the funniest moments was my failed attempt to listen to a meditation CD on a DiscMan. I ended up falling out of bed & almost strangling myself in the tangled cords of the earphones and the necklace for my eyeglasses. (I since graduated to iPod). Love and laughter are the best medicine.

  2. My husband and I recently went through a colon cancer scare after he had a bad colonoscopy. He ruefully remarked ‘of all the cancers I had to get, I got butt cancer’. I said ‘butt cancer’ back to him about 20 times and he finally couldn’t stop laughing. Now I just have to say ‘at least I didn’t get butt cancer’ or any sentence containing the words ‘butt cancer’ and we both crack up. Through out my two diagnoses and treatments and numerous other medical misadventures, there are two things never to give up: hope and humor.

  3. My oncologist is really funny. When I was first diagnosed with stage IV mets to bone, lymph, lung, and liver, he ordered a MRI of my brain to see if I had any mets there, too and a PET Scan to confirm the extent of the mets. My husband came with me to hear about the results and my oncologist says when we first meet “I have good news and I think you know what it is”. Not wanting to say or have my hope be wrong, I questioned him saying “I do?” He said “Yes. The good news is you have a brain.” We busted out laughing because sometimes that be in question and I remarked “Yeah, me and the scarecrow” (meaning from the Wizard of Oz.) We cracked up. He went on to say “And your brain is very active”. My husband then really lost it and said “I already knew that. Her brain rarely stops buzzing about all the things she is thinking about and wants me to do. You aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know.” We laughed and laughed till we had tears rolling down our faces. Then my doc told me that I didn’t have any mets to my brain and that I had a good heart. By the way, a merry heart is a good medicine and my oncologist initals are HAH 🙂 lol

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