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It's OK to Laugh When You Have Cancer


Learning to laugh during breast cancer takes practice, but with a little effort, it can become good medicine.

There's an old saying about laughter being the best medicine that most of us have heard before, although no one really knows where it originated. Like most people, I'm inclined to believe it's been around for thousands of years and was probably taken from the Holy Bible which says in the seventeenth chapter of Proverbs, verse 22, "A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones." But no matter where the quotation came from, the evidence included in the verse has proven true.

Laughter can lighten a spirit and make a person feel better. I know this to be true because it has helped me.

Laughing in the midst of a serious illness doesn't quite seem appropriate, does it? But at times, it's the only thing that can help a person cope with a distressing situation. While no cancer is a laughing matter, finding humor in the center of difficulty — though it might seem an impossible feat – is not only possible, it's probable. When I was diagnosed with stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma, there was little to chuckle at. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I'd just been given the most dreadful news of my entire life. It felt like the ceiling of my world had just come crashing down upon my head. I had no idea how I was going to get through the next day, and the weeks and months that followed.

The first few days, I was in a stupor of disbelief. Nothing was funny. Like a zombie, I went through the motions. I endured test after test and finally had surgery to remove both breasts. As I spent the first couple of days in the hospital, I was unable to smile, much less laugh.

After I was home, everything was physically and emotionally challenging. Each day brought new problems, but the morning I was able to take my first shower alone, I got my laugh back. Standing in front of the mirror, my bandaged chest glaring back at me, I couldn't help but laugh. On each side of my torso dangled a plastic bulb filled with blood and pus. I looked like a weird suicide bomber! Hysterically, I laughed. My husband thought I'd lost my mind and I'll have to admit, it was sick humor at the time, but both he and I were just glad I'd been able to laugh instead of cry. Though my chest hadn't even begun to mend from surgery and I was still in a great deal of pain, I'd found a way to find humor in my situation.

Then there was the time my young granddaughter asked me if my boobs would ever grow back. While her question was quite serious and very heartfelt, I couldn't help but cackle with laughter. The mental image her query conjured up in my mind left me in stitches.

When my silicone breast form slipped out of my bathing suit during a relaxing time in the hot tub and went rogue sinking to the bottom of the bubble-filled sanctuary, I found another reason to laugh. No one else had seen the boob escape and that was part of the humor. It had been a very private joke on me.

I could go on and on giving examples of the various reasons I've had to laugh since diagnosis, but it would take too long to document here. The bottom line is, in each instance, when I was able to laugh at my situation, I felt lighter. And not only did I feel lighter, I felt more normal. The laughter was good medicine. It helped me not focus on the tragedy of what cancer had taken from me. Instead, I was able to shift my focus and began looking for reasons to laugh.

Learning to laugh during cancer isn't easy and even the thought of it might seem sacrilegious to some but, if you can find humor in the midst of pain, the healing balm it pours out will become a soothing antidote that will help when nothing else can.

It might not be that you're able to laugh at yourself. Perhaps you'll find humor in something someone else says or does, or maybe it will just be a minor incident that sets your heart toward smiling. Whatever pushes you away from your pain and toward a little happiness, even if for only a few fleeting seconds, grab it!

It's OK to laugh when you have cancer. And maybe someone won't understand. And maybe they'll give you grief or chide you for taking something less seriously than you ought, but that's OK, too. There are no rules to surviving cancer. Each of us makes them up as we go along. What works for one person might not work for you and vice versa, but please remember, "A merry heart does good like a medicine and a dry spirit dries up the bones." There's too much seriousness in the world as it is, and I think we could all use a heavy dose of laughter.

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