Humor Helped Me Through Cancer


Sometimes, laughter really is the best medicine, so I tried to maintain a sense of humor through my cancer treatments.

cartoon image of blogger and lymphoma survivor, John Smelcer

The other day my wife and teenage daughter were invited to a high tea party. My wife invited me to join them, but she reminded me that I’d be the only man there. Imaging dainty flora-patterned China cups, tulle dresses and crumpets, I said I thought I’d stay home and do something manly like juggling chainsaws. My wife laughed more than I had seen her laugh in years, which made me think about how I used humor to get me through my cancer ordeal.

When I was young, I used to read Reader’s Digest. I loved the “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” section. I came to love etymology, the origin of words. I may have become a writer thanks in part to Reader’s Digest. One of my other favorite sections was “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.” I loved all the funny jokes and anecdotes so much that I sent in a funny anecdote about my time in the Army 40 years ago.

Over the years, scientific research has shown that laughing is good for us. Happiness in general is beneficial to our wellbeing. Anxiety is detrimental. There’s a lot to be anxious about when one is diagnosed with cancer. Going through chemotherapy isn’t a fun, relaxing thing. But I went through my six months of hospitalizations with the best sense of humor I could muster. Doctors, nurses, techs and other staff frequently remarked how much they admired my sense of humor, positive outlook, and optimism. As far as I could tell, they genuinely enjoyed their interactions with me. Even as the radiology staff thrust a needle into my lower spine for an injection of chemo, we always joked around. Month after month, they remembered me. I think it made the process more bearable for everyone involved.

Certainly, cancer is no laughing matter. Chemo is no joke. Getting poked and prodded is never fun. No amount of laughter will change any of that. But trying to make the best of the experience is really about connecting, about humans building positive relations. They say that the way a person handles themselves during difficult and stressful times shows one’s character and grace. I chose to seek joy and happiness, even during cancer.

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