Can Cancer Be a Laughing Matter?
Humor can be a valuable healing strategy for patients with cancer and their doctors.
BY Rajiv Samant, M.D.
PUBLISHED March 09, 2017
Many people consider caring for patients with cancer to be serious and sad work. However, I have experienced great joy, pride and satisfaction over the past 25-plus years in my work as a radiation oncologist. I have interacted with thousands of patients with cancer and found them to be a constant source of inspiration who give me many insights about appreciating and getting the most out of life. In particular, these remarkable individuals can, and do, use humor, just like everyone else. I want to pass that message along and let others — patients, their friends and families as well as health care professionals — know that humor can be a great asset for dealing with cancer. I feel the need to add my voice to the growing numbers of people promoting humor as an important tool for better health and happiness.
To demonstrate this, I wrote a book about my observations that highlight the importance of the smiles, positivity and humor I witness daily. “Smiles from the Clinic: A humorous look at cancer” is not a memoir, but rather a series of illustrated brief stories and vignettes. It uses real-life examples from my work to demonstrate that humor is present every day in the cancer clinic, and can be extremely useful in helping patients and their caregivers to cope with and thrive after a diagnosis of cancer. While revealing some of the incredible life lessons that patients have taught me, the book is also meant to be entertaining, and to demonstrate that there are reasons to smile, and even laugh, despite a diagnosis of cancer. It is definitely uplifting and heartwarming to see how often many patients are open to humor and can use it to survive and move forward in a positive way with their lives after cancer. And they usually want those around them to join in the laughter.
I hope the book will be useful for health care providers by showing them that our attitude affects those around us. There is lots of room for a positive attitude in the cancer world, and we should be aware of how much it benefits patients. You don’t have to be a comedian to use humor. You just need to be open to the humor that surrounds us and not feel shy or embarrassed to smile, joke around or laugh. Humor can be incredibly important for relationship-building, so it should not be taken lightly or trivialized. Experience has shown me that patients are the ones most likely to introduce humor into the conversation, and those around them just need to be receptive to it, and encouraging.
Because humor is useful in helping us deal with the challenges of daily life, it can, of course, play a role with regard to our health. I am sure you have all heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine.” There is even research backing up the significant value of humor and laughter in health care, including the cancer patient population. It shows that humor can relieve stress, improve coping and facilitate better communication and trust. There is an increasing understanding that we need to be more aware and adaptive to the specific needs of patients, and this includes the use of humor. In the appropriate settings and for patients open to it, humor has great therapeutic value for improving quality of life.
My hope is that this article, and perhaps my book, will make readers more open to the use of humor and smiles in their day-to-day lives. If you have been touched by cancer, either personally or in any other way, give yourself permission to smile, laugh and joke whenever you feel like it. It will probably make you and those around you happier and help maintain a healthy attitude toward life. So, go ahead and watch a comedy, read a funny book, check out a humorous website, listen to or tell jokes or whatever else makes you want to laugh, smile and feel good. Remind those around you to lighten up and not take themselves or the situation at hand too seriously. Also, encourage those around you to join in, get a daily dose of smiles and humor, and remember to focus on the brighter side of life.
Rajiv Samant, M.D., is a radiation oncologist who has been working across Canada for more than 20 years. He believes that patients should be treated as individuals with dignity, respect, kindness, and, where circumstances allow, humor. “Smiles from the Clinic” (Motivational Press, 2016) was written by Samant with Leah Geller, and illustrated by Joe Ollmann. It can be purchased at amazon.com.