Dana Stewart was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32. She is the co-founder of a cancer survivorship organization called The Dragonfly Angel Society. She volunteers as an advocate and mentor, focusing on young adults surviving cancer. She enjoys writing about life as a cancer survivor, as well as connecting survivors to the resources, inspirations and stories that have helped her continue to live her best life, available at www.dragonflyangelsociety.com.
It is OK to laugh during cancer treatment. Laughing and humor are one of the few things cancer can't touch.
Seeing “cancer” in the same sentence as the word “laughter” is really hard to understand. I get that. It makes no sense as their meanings are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I've always latched on to humor and made it a staple in my life. I try to not take things too seriously. Even when things get rough, humor is my first go-to coping mechanism. So, when I was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago at 32 years old, humor was one of the first things I looked to in order to get through the shocking news. I allowed myself some time to feel sad, scared and anger after learning I had cancer. However, I forced those emotions to live on a stopwatch's time count, and soon enough pressed the stop button. It was time to work through the emotions of cancer. It was not going to go away any faster if I kept crying or screamed about it. So, I took a different approach: I laughed it out.
Now, some people might think this is crazy. Fair enough. I thought I was a little odd in the process myself, but that didn't stop me. First of all, the cancer was in my body, so it was my journey and my decision as to how to handle it. I have been and always will be the first to say that however anyone approaches their personal journey through what they’re going through is up to them. None of us have a right to judge it because it is not our body, journey or experience. It's that plain and simple. Second, laughing was part of my daily routine so why would I approach cancer any different? I refused to let cancer change who I was so why would I let change my approach to my life?
How does one even approach laughing through cancer? It's an excellent question and until I started the practice I had no idea myself. As I walked my path I kind of just went for it. Here's what I did:
1. I laughed at the little things. First question that has got to be asked is are there even little things when going through cancer? Quick answer - YES!! Of course there are. Your life doesn't to stop just because you are faced with cancer. I'm not trying to make light of the situation, believe me I am not, but if you don't allow yourself to laugh a bit, the emotions of dealing with cancer can break you.
2. I had some fun with the treatments. OK, open your mind here and hear me out. Here's how I took this approach. Losing my hair was one of the hardest things for me. I think it was harder than hearing the words of my cancer diagnosis. I knew the only way I'd get through that moment of shaving my head before chemo was if I laughed. Admittedly, first I cried and then I laughed. I had a friend shave my head and then the theatrics started. I grabbed two fistfuls of hair, put my hands on the side of my head and acted like I got so mad I ripped my hair out. We have the pictures to prove that one. That was just one of the experiences in which I made it a laughing matter. I had to, or I wasn't sure that emotionally I'd make it through. I did this with about everything during cancer treatment.
3. I made others laugh with and even at me. I know this sounds mean, but really it wasn't. I saw it as loosening the mood, getting rid of the elephant in the room, if you will. If I showed my friends and family a smile on my face and a few loud chuckles, then I could see that they felt a little sigh of relief and felt they could do the same. It made it so much easier for all of us. I made even the little stories into funny stories and I could tell it made everyone less tense about the cancer. The cancer wasn't funny at all but the stories that seemed to happen around the cancer journey always were. I did everything from accidently put my house keys in the refrigerator (don't ask me why…I say chemo made me do it) to leaving corn on the cob in a turned-off oven for days because I completely forgot about it. That's just silly and you can't make this stuff up. After my mastectomy surgery, I would tell stories about how I laughed at my reconstruction. Let's face it, it’s not every day a woman has to go through a cancer treatment in which breast implants are filled back up weekly in a doctor's office. If I didn't laugh, I was bound to cry. Choice A seemed the best mental treatment for me.
Those are just a few of my favorite ways to make cancer treatment a bit more tolerable. I'll say it one more time. Cancer is not funny. It's not even close. But the approach can make or break you if you have a cancer diagnosis. You can take the cards that are dealt and make the best of them or you don't accept the situation and quite frankly, make it more unbearable than it has to be. As I state above, you are not laughing at the cancer. You are finding ways to cope and laughing at the little things, making light of the stuff you never knew even existed is OK. If you do, cancer simply cannot compete with your emotions.