“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain,” Charlie Chaplin
Laying on the gurney, hooked up to my IV, I waited for my doctor to call with my pathology report telling me my cancer is gone and clearing me for facial reconstruction surgery. Three surgeries in three days to remove the spreading melanoma on my right cheek had left a huge hole in my in my face which would require a complicated five hour flap surgery to close it up. My son August, with me through surgeries was making me howl with laughter. When I finally got the call, I turned to August and said, “My cancer is gone! Some of my friends may call or text you during my surgery to see how I am doing.” August dryly responded, “Can I tell them you’re dead?” It was just what I needed to send me into surgery laughing. August asked me for any parting words as the anesthesiologist wheeled me down the hall, and I responded, “Can I get you anything while I’m out?”
Cancer isn’t funny. The scar that takes up about 25% of my face, changing the way I look forever isn’t funny. Waiting to hear staging and if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes wasn’t funny. But I’m funny. And I knew if I was going to make through this journey I had to connect to my core, to show up and just be me, and find the humor surrounding this horrific situation. And I did.
When I witnessed the shock that my friends had when they saw the aftermath of how cancer affected my looks they were speechless. My humor eased the tension, allowing my friends and family to be more encouraging and supportive.
Everywhere I went I took my humor with me. At one point I thought I might have to have a skin graft to cover the gaping hole on my face and I asked the doctor where the skin for the skin graft comes from. He said it might come from the back of my neck or from my hips. When I asked him if I could pay a young nurse to donate skin he looked at me in shock and I busted out laughing.
When I came home with forty stitches on my face I made the decision not to hide out in my home, but to carry on with life especially since my doctors said I could. One morning I got my car washed and when I walked up to tip the young man drying my car he took one look at me and said, “Oh my goodness! Were you in a knife fight? What happened to the other guy?” I handed him his tip and as I got in my car I said, “I don’t know, I just got out of jail.”
Genuine humor works completely from the inside out. It’s a nebulous entity, changing every time you use it. Humor isn’t a noun that you keep in your pocket and take out at parties. It exists in everything we do and it requires us to pay attention in order to spot the opportunity to illuminate it for others.
In whatever form you find it, humor is contagious. A smile begets a smile. A laugh begets a laugh. So, if you know someone with cancer and you want to lift their spirits just start with a smile and laughter won’t be far off. A smile – genuine humor – is such an important gateway to help someone feel better. Laughter can provide a sense of perspective when you are facing challenging circumstances and help release pent –up emotions. Laughter may also help reduce depression and anxiety and increase self-esteem, energy, resilience and hope.
My cancer journey is reminding me that I don’t need to live strong, I just need to live on my own terms and that means discovering the humor in all situations. There may be no proof that laughter can improve your health, but I have no doubt that it can improve your life.