Humor is the Best Medicine. If you’ve ever gone to a comedy show, you may have noticed how you felt when you left – a little lighter, happier.
But cancer isn’t funny. How are you supposed to laugh when you or a family member has cancer? Watch this trailer of my speech, Humor and Cancer at the Integrated Health International Conference in San Diego, to find out.
I noticed something very surprising in my time as an oncology nurse. The patients with the worst prognosis were often the most optimistic. One woman in particular, with advanced breast cancer, defined playful. Her chemo regimen was twice a week, and every time she’d walk through those treatment area doors, she’d be cracking jokes, and would have some kind of comical prop with her. On her first chemo she wore giant pink boxing gloves, each the size of her torso, just to get a laugh out of us nurses. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to feel sorry for her. She wanted to appear strong, fearless, and not sick.
A young man with terminal cancer really impressed me. Aside from the assessment in the beginning of his appointments, where he had to talk about his horrible symptoms and treatment, he never talked about being sick. He was excitedly listing the concerts, comedy shows, and local events that he’d just bought tickets for. He knew that humor and having fun would get him through everything.
At first, I thought this was a form of denial, but as I continued to observe them coming in for treatment, I realized it was hope, a belief in themselves that regardless of what science or statistics say, that they were going to be as light hearted and strong as possible.
Of course not all cancer patients are like this. You may know someone who is afraid, tearful, and depressed. But after you talk to them, and let them tell you about their feelings about their diagnosis and treatment, and you’re close enough or comfortable enough to do so, Make. Them. Laugh.
Laughter is therapeutic. When a something triggers amusement in the human body, something magical happens. The brain releases endorphins, sends signals to dilate blood vessels, and down-regulates the production of the stress hormones. It releases tension and trapped emotions. It simpler terms it make us feel better!
Kate Mathews, cancer cartoonist and survivor, gets it. She found her healing through creating and sharing humorous cancer cartoons. When asked what’s so funny about cancer, she says, “Not one damn thing, really. But whenever I need to feel lifted away from the fear, horror and pain of breast cancer, humor is the first place I turn.” You can find her book by searching “The Little Pink Book of (mostly) Cancer Cartoons” on Amazon.
Research for the healing power of laughter is drawing more attention; so much now that Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers Laughter Therapy. First introduced by Dr. Katherine Puckett, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine at CTCA, Laughter Clubs are leader-led groups that take patients through laugh-related exercises, and have been very successful in making patients feel better.
Standup comedian, Tig Notaro, understands how humor is healing. In 2012 she seemed to take her diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer in stride when she said she would still perform her set in Los Angeles very shortly after being diagnosed. But she honestly shared her fear with the audience, still making her fans roar with laughter.
But what if you’re not a comedian and not accustomed to making jokes out of something not-so-funny? How can you laugh when you’re so scared and depressed? Or how do you make your friend laugh who’s so scared and depressed?
Here are some ways:
- Go to comedy shows! Ok, so you live in a small town with no comedy clubs or you can’t afford to go to a show? Watch them for cheap on iTunes or free on YouTube!
- Watch funny movies. Whether you’re into British humor, or slapstick, just find a comedy that makes you laugh until your side hurts.
- Get together with friends and ACT LIKE A KID! Have a pillow fight, put your whoopee cushion to use,
- Play with a pet! Watch cat and dog videos on YouTube if you don’t have pets.
When was the last time you laughed?
That’s where LumpyCards comes in. We’re on a mission to make the cancer journey a little lighter!
Last but not least, I’d like to feature our latest funny cancer card. This one is for women who are about to have, or have had a mastectomy with breast reconstruction. Give her this breast cancer reconstruction card with your own silly sentiment on the inside, and make her day!