Laughing in the Face of Cancer

Laughing in the Face of Cancer

The old commonplace is “laughter is the best medicine.” If laughing isn’t itself reward enough, consider that it has effects similar to exercise on your body. There’s no proof that it can improve your health, but I have no doubt at all that improves your life.

I’ll be honest with you, I married my husband because he made me laugh. True story. I’ve stayed with him for 20+ years because he still makes me laugh. Sometimes he even intends to make me laugh. But, since being diagnosed with cancer, I’ve had a hard time tapping into the humor of this illness.

Well, enough of the struggle. Today I went in search of cancer humor, and it turns out that there’s quite a bit of it out there. It spans the spectrum of comedy from silly to biting. And, in the process of looking for humor, I had the chance to remember some funny moments in my own journey.

Everyone told me that I’d lose my sense of modesty after having a baby. That didn’t happen, but after cancer I didn’t have the energy for modesty. What’s the point with tubes in my urethra and hospital gowns and, god forbid, vaginal ultrasounds (dildo anyone?).

Every doctor and lab, every test and procedure seemed to require undressing and exposing the under-carriage. So, when I was directed to the room for an x-ray of my leg, I automatically unzipped and dropped my pants. The technician gasped and said, “No, don’t take those off.” Turns out you don’t need to remove your clothes for an x-ray.

As I was looking for cancer humor, I found some fantastic sites, like this blog, “Dancing the Cancer Down to Dust,” on which the following story appears.

 A woman cancer fighter was in her patient support group and told the story of her doom saying doctor. Several years earlier (she told her group) her original oncologist had given her a diagnosis of six months to live. He advised her to get her affairs in order. She switched doctors. Her friends, angry, said, "You should go back to that doctor and tell him he had no right to make that pronouncement." The woman replied, "I tried, but he died six months after my last visit." (Story overheard at Midwestern Regional Medical Center.)

There’s also Tig Notaro, a standup comedian, who went ahead with a scheduled appearance a week after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Her performance that night caught the attention of Louis CK who helped her become an “overnight sensation.” Her routine that night famously began when, walking onstage to the applause of the audience, she said, “Thank you for coming tonight. I have cancer. Thank you. Thank you. I have cancer.” You can buy the show on iTunes.

Notaro is my kind of comedian. She’s edgy and hits the nitty-gritty, but revels in her own inner 12-year-old. This bit from the Conan O’Brien show absolutely nails the “cancer is a gift” pastel nonsense pedaled by the motivational poster crowd.

Dana Jennings, who has a New York Times blog, reminds me that I’m not original when I use cancer as an excuse to get my way at home. Like me, he has argued for the best chair in the house or for the channel to change because, well, “I have cancer.” It works every time.

And, then, there’s Brian Lobel, who discovered that he had a lump on his testicle while “while lying in a hotel bathtub, pleasuring myself as I listened intently to an episode of the family television series ‘Seventh Heaven.’”

His blog is very much worth visiting. I lingered over his comments about Lance Armstrong, which are the truest I’ve heard about the tainted hero/athlete. His remarks include this gem, “We do not need to live strong, we just need to live on our own terms.”

For me, it’s a short drive from laughing at cancer to the cul-de-sac of brooding intensity and anxiety about cancer. Thankfully, I have these funny people, a support group full of funny people, and all of you out there to remind me to lighten up.

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