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Can Laughter Help Me Through Cancer?

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I've found that making time for a good laugh each day helped break through the looming thought of cancer.

A woman with curly red hair smiles brightly. Laughter helps patients with cancer through thoughts of cancer.

When I first heard I had an incurable, but indolent cancer, my world exploded. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, as they say. It took time to process this information. My world was different now. I woke up thinking about cancer and went to bed thinking about cancer. This couldn’t go on or the stress alone would speed things up. I told my husband I needed to do something to help me sleep. “Maybe I need to watch something funny?” I said.

The next day, my husband surprised me! He bought a full season of a sitcom he knew I loved and hadn’t seen in years. He suggested watching one each night. We cuddled in bed as we laughed together and it felt so good! Just what the doctor ordered. I slept better and didn’t wake up with cancer looming over me every morning. Some mornings, yes, but it was much better.

The National Institute of Health shared a journal article published in the National Library of Medicine, entitled Effects of Laughter Therapy on Quality of Life in Patients With Cancer.

They concluded, "Laughter therapy may represent a beneficial, noninvasive complementary intervention in the clinical setting. Further studies are needed to verify the hypotheses generated from this exploratory study.” I knew intuitively this was the case.

Life seems overwhelming after a cancer diagnosis and it drives our schedule. There, are appointments to make, treatments, medications, etc.This is not to mention all the psychological trauma and relationships you are still trying to maintain.

How nice it would be to purposefully include some laughter with someone close to help you remember to smile and better yet, to have a good laugh together? Just like I have recommended setting aside time to deal with your worries, I am recommending allowing yourself the time to include laughter to bolster your resilience. Perhaps renting your favorite comedy movie and watching it with a good friend? Laughing together could be just the medicine you need, without any negative side effects or contraindications, and low and behold, it’s FREE!

Due to the recent current events and the state of today’s world, I now have a new habit. “Doomscrolling,” is a “trendy name for the tendency to consume endless negative news.” I decided, once again, it was time to consciously add some humorous time to my life. “Laughter is the physical manifestation of finding something funny, and it can help to reduce inflammation and stress hormones, improve circulation, and enhance the immune system,” says the Everyday Health Wellness Advisory Board member Heidi Hanna, founder of Synergy Brain Fitness, a consulting company that creates cognitive performance programs. Her claims about laughter were based on evidence from studies in publications such as the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal, Medical Hypotheses and Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Hanna said, “To bring the funny to your life, you don’t even need to laugh out loud.” She also said, “Just finding something funny or amusing can have the same benefits.”

Researchers looked at the brain activity of people experiencing something humorous. Laughing stimulates healing gamma waves and can help in different ways. It lowers levels of cortisol, which is a known stress hormone, and simultaneously elevates the “happy” neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Also, they found that when people laughed with others, as opposed to being alone, it was contagious!

Once again, I will deliberately look for ways to laugh during the day. It has helped me before and I believe it will help me again. The stress of “Doomscrolling” is not helpful for my cancer, so I know I need to consciously take charge and try to help myself.Knowing it helped me at the time of my cancer diagnosis, I feel I have read enough research and I’m convinced it will help me again.

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Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown