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Laughing From My Belly: How Humor Helped My Cancer Recovery

Some of the greatest doctors in the world were responsible for my survival and recovery from acute myeloid leukemia…but the Three Stooges, W.C Fields, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers played a major role as well.
PUBLISHED August 17, 2019
Gary Stromberg co-founded GIBSON & STROMBERG, a large and influential music public relations firm of the sixties and seventies. The company represented such luminaries as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Muhammad Ali, Barbra Streisand, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Doors, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Three Dog Night and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. He also spent time in the film business co-producing movies such as Car Wash (Universal Studios) and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh (Lorimar/United Artists). Stromberg has also written three books, The Harder They Fall (Hazelden - 2007) and Feeding the Fame (Hazelden - 2009) and a third book for McGraw-Hill Publishing, entitled Second Chances, which was published in 2011. He's currently working on a fourth book, She's Come Undone, for HCI Publishing, which will come out next spring.

Moe: Tell me your name so I can tell your mother.
Curly: My mother already knows my name! yuk, yuk, yuk…

Some of the greatest doctors in the world were responsible for my survival and recovery from acute myeloid leukemia, which came a-calling seven years ago. Some insanely caring nurses, and an Israeli bone marrow donor I had never met did their part, too. But the Three Stooges, W.C Fields, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Brothers played a major role as well.

Confined to a hospital bed, hooked up with a mad scientist’s array of IV’s and monitoring devices, I was no longer the guy who walks into a room full of horse manure and proclaims, “There’s a pony in here somewhere!” Cancer has a way of making the world a dark and gloomy place.

I won’t lie to you, treatment is not easy or pleasant. Fear and depression were my constant companions, until one day I had had enough. “This is not me,” I declared loudly in my head. “I’m better than this.” Frantically searching my brain-pan to come up with an idea that would get me off the negative path I was going down, I remembered something I read about laughter, and its healing effects.

Moe (after a nun is hit with a giant church bell falling off a roof): Hey Curly, do you know that nun?
Curly: No, but the face rings a bell! …ba da boom!

“That’s it,” I thought. I need to laugh. My days were being spent lying flat on my back, continually being poked, having my vitals checked, meds administered and a myriad of doctors running in and out of my room, ordering various procedures. Thoughts that this could be it, my final curtain call, weighed heavily on my weakened body. My mind, while trying to stay strong and focused, was slowly succumbing to the toxicity of my disease. I could feel it.

So, one day I summoned the on-duty nurse and asked if she could get me some DVD’s of some good slapstick comedies. I don’t know how she managed it, but before long a box arrived with several of them inside. For the next few days, I spent hours watching the old masters: W.C. Fields’ hilarious “My Little Chickadee,” The Marx Brother’s “Duck Soup,” and Laurel and Hardy’s super-silly “Block Heads!”

At first I had trouble focusing on what I was watching. The black and white, grainy images seemed terribly dated, but soon the pratfalls and hijinks worked their way into the place where my funny bone resides, and before long I was laughing out loud. Not the surface chuckling kind of laughter when one is amused, but laughter that shook the deep regions of my being. Belly laughter, the best kind.

I’m not suggesting that my leukemia suddenly succumbed to Dr. Laurel and Dr. Hardy, but I’m telling you, they sure helped lighten my load.
 
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