Laughter and Cancer Go Hand in Hand


Being diagnosed with cancer is nothing to laugh about. However, working in some laughter as you go through your cancer journey can make the process a lot less stressful.

Are you wondering how in the world it is possible to have cancer and find anything funny? It's not like it is a laughing matter. However, I dare you to laugh anyway. I say this from experience. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, rest assured, I didn't find it funny at all. In fact, I just burst into tears hearing those words. Once I calmed down and started on with the journey that I had no choice but to face, I started finding the humor in just about everything. I found that the less I cried and the more I laughed, the easier that cancer journey became.

Every step of the way from surgery to chemo to losing my hair was an adventure. Adventures don't always have to be the greatest moments of our lives, but they are still adventures and finding the humor in it just keeps it all in perspective. Let me give you some of my favorite laughing-at-cancer moments:

1. After my bilateral mastectomy, I had to take my cat to the vet. I lived by myself, so the mission was all on me. I couldn't lift more than five pounds per doctor's orders. My cat was eight pounds and with her carrier, it was probably close to 12 pounds. What was a girl to do? I doctored up a luggage cart, strapped the cat and carrier on and rolled the contraption to my car. I looked like a crazy cat lady wheeling her cat around like a baby. I managed to run into every human being in the vicinity of my apartment and the vet's office that day. My cat's name was Sammy so I called the adventure Driving Ms. Sammy. I laugh about it to this day.

2. I had little power over anything during treatment. Therefore, I decided when I was going to go bald. I certainly wasn't waiting for the chemo to decide. I had my friend shave my head for me. I took a picture with my hands positioned like a I was ripping my hair out. Then we shaved it and took a second picture in which it looks like I did rip my hair out. That's not something you get to do every day.

3. My Christmas presents from my family that year were nothing but the funniest things I have ever received. My favorite was a T-shirt created by my brother that read: "I beat cancer and all I got was this stupid T-shirt." Come on, if that doesn't make you laugh, nothing will! I still wear that T-shirt proudly every chance I get.

4. I had a contest with a Chia Pet head and my own head of hair to see which head of hair would grow fastest. I lost. It was hilarious and every week I took a picture. It was fun to see the progress of my hair growing back.

5. I started to actually love it when I would go to the doctor, walk up to the registration desk in the big medical facility and before I could even say what I was there for, the staff already had me checked in. I freaked out the first time it happened because it meant I was obvioulsy there too much. Then I just started to pretend I was Norm from "Cheers" and all was good with the world.

Believe me when I say anything can make you laugh or cry during cancer — it's up to you. None of the things on my laugh list were technically the funniest things ever. Some are just downright sad. I couldn't lift my cat, I went bald and the medical teams in a huge facility knew who I was before my foot crossed the door's threshold. Those things that could have easily brought me down. They could have made me cry.

My cancer journey hasn't necessarily been all sunshine and roses, but I made the best of it. I had to. I had to laugh. It's what kept me going and it's what keeps me going today. Give yourself a break. Laugh a little — it's OK at any point of your cancer journey.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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