Seriously? Finding the Lighter Side of Cancer

July 19, 2016

If we're going to head into the deep waters of the meaning of life after a cancer diagnosis, why not strap on the laughing gas along with the oxygen tank?

"Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward." - Kurt Vonnegut

Looking back over some of my recent posts, I was astounded by the lack of humor in some of them. The serious tone and, dare I say, preachiness made me pause and reflect. When did I stop being funny? I don't feel that one has to take on a solemn tone when approaching cancer. As a matter of fact, I have always believed that a sense of humor was a key element when trying to dodge the slings and arrows along the path of most resistance. What gives?

Upon further reflection, I realized I had fallen prey to one of the lesser known side effects of going through the cancer journey. This side effect, unlike the ones that come along with chemotherapy, arises solely from the mind and has a full-proof remedy. The symptom is to feel the heaviness of life, and the cure is to simply lighten up.

Let's be honest, on the surface there is nothing funny about cancer. Having to face this demon head-on is no laughing matter and someone needs to take it very seriously if we are ever to see the day when we can use the word "cure." Still, who says that one cannot strive for a higher cause while taking the low road of slapstick comedy? Where is it written that we can't take the "mean" out of meaningful and just have a good laugh now and then?

It was Oscar Wilde who said, "Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about." He wasn't kidding. Or maybe he was? Who knows? Who cares? It's a great quote.

We are repeatedly told that laughter is the best medicine. Of course there are times when the joke not only is lost on us, it seems that we are the very butt of the joke. It's the feeling that the punch line has hit us right in the solar plexus, or, in my case, right in the thymus gland, which is just a little higher. It's ironic that this profound sense of humor would leave us just when we need it most.

The problem lies with confusing serious with important and funny with trivial. When strength of conviction hardens, it loses its flexibility and can no longer smile. In rigid fashion it pooh-poohs the free-spirited, spontaneous, take-life-as-it-comes approach. (Pooh, now that's a funny word).

I've seldom heard a cancer survivor or survivor of other traumas, for that matter, exclaim: "You know, I find that I'm a lot funnier now after what I've been through."

Maybe that means it's time to take on a viewpoint best expressed by the recently departed, Robin Williams: "I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing near you." Tragedies can bring a heavy-heartedness to our lives so why not counter with a lighter heart? If we're going to head into the deep waters of the meaning of life after a cancer diagnosis, why not strap on the laughing gas along with the oxygen tank?

It is most likely some innate wisdom — and not-so-subtle reminder — that tears accompany both a good cry and good laugh. Surely, in both cases they spring from the same profound source of — you thought I was going to get all deep there, didn't you? Seriously?


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