Where is the humor in cancer and caring for someone that is fighting moment to moment for their life? I think we can all agree that cancer is really not a laughable matter. However, what if laughing in and through cancer is the very thing we need more of?
As early as three months old, babies are able to fill a room with contagious giggles and by childhood, statistics say that kids laugh hundreds of times per day. You remember the days, don’t you? As children, we could laugh at just about anything or with anyone. We found humor in the most insignificant things and in the most obscure places. Laughing came so easily. It was like second nature.
What happens to us when we get our “adult card?” Suddenly, the humor in life fades away like a sunset and the laughter is something we find ourselves chasing like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. How do we go from laughing effortlessly hundreds of times per day to less than 15 times per day? Sadly, our giggles get swept up with the stale cheerios on the floor, they get taken out with the trash on Monday morning and they are sucked down the drain with the mud and muck of our lives. “Adulting” is hard, especially when we layer a cancer diagnosis on top of it. Our sense of humor is squashed by the enormity of our circumstances and swallowed up by stress of the situation.
Have you ever found yourself smiling or even trying to stuff down a chuckle at a time when the situation seemed inappropriate? Like when a toddler is sassing their parents with a humorous innocence and you try to look away to hide your reaction or the less than ideal timing of a child’s bodily “reaction” in the still silence of a Sunday morning worship service? It happens, right?
When Finding Laughter is Hard
When I first heard the news that a tumor was found in my Mom’s brain, I awkwardly laughed at the absolute absurdity of the situation. She was just cross country skiing hours earlier for heavens sakes! It was almost like a sick April Fool’s Day joke, except that it was January. As reality sunk in, who would ever say something like that in jest? There is nothing funny about receiving that kind of news. But, in the moment, I was in self-preservation mode and I was desperately trying to cling to my safe, “normal” reality.
After her Glioblastoma brain cancer diagnosis, it was as if the humor was instantaneously sucked from my body. A smile was hard to crack, forget mustering up the energy to chuckle, even momentarily. I was numb.
When cancer comes knocking at your door, be prepared! It’s a thief. It will try to rob you blind if you aren’t careful. But, cancer is sneaky. It doesn’t always take from you all at once. It is a clever, cunning opportunist. Cancer will subtly steal from you and your family over time. Sometimes so discreetly that you do not even realize it in the moment. Often times, it takes the passing of time and retrospect to see how cancer has slowly drained the air from a room and left your spirit flat and deflated.
If you have cancer or are caregiving for someone who has cancer, maybe you can relate to the feelings of numbness, overwhelm, exhaustion, stress, depression, or all of the above. If you are raising your hand and internally breathing a sigh of relief that you are not alone, I pray you will keep reading because I have good news for us!
Why Our Cancer Journeys Need More Laughter
Even though this life with cancer is bring you to your knees, HARD, and laughing seems to be far-fetched and having a sense of humor does not even make the list of medical appointments, treatment schedules and pill box priorities, it might just be the very thing that can breathe some vibrancy back into our weary spirits and infuse our days with the taste of real life once again.
Laughter is valuable medicine. Not only will it put a smile on your face but its scientifically proven to benefit your mind, body and spirit.
Did you know that one study found that laughing for 20 seconds is equivalent to three minutes of rowing on a row machine when looking at the impact on lung function?
Can I get an “Amen”?! For someone like me who is exercise challenged, this is FANTASTIC NEWS! Bring on the “I Love Lucy” and America’s Funniest Home Videos! Come on now, the sheer thought of putting laughing and rowing in the same category is enough to make me smile and laugh a little. I knew God had a great sense of humor!
Benefits of Laughter
According to journalist Norman Cousins, who studied self-healing through laughter in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, he said “Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.” Phew, there is still hope for me!
Living in laughter won’t cure your cancer and having a great sense of humor will not remove the caregiving responsibilities but intentionally incorporating it into your daily life will bring with it significant health benefits for you and those around you.
Laughter has an impressive resume! Did you know that laughing can lower “bad” cholesterol and elevate “good” cholesterol? If that doesn’t get your attention, did you know that the process of laughing boosts your immune system and triggers the release of pleasure inducing neurochemicals in your brain? A few chuckles can even activate strong antibodies responsible for attacking viruses and tumors in the body!
The good news does not stop there! Laughter reduces blood sugar levels, burns calories, improves cardiovascular function, stimulates circulation, and helps muscles relax up to 45 minutes after a good belly chuckle. Engaging in laughter even activates the brain to release endorphins, which make us feel more relaxed and can aid in the reduction of physical and mental pain. Who knew that a few giggles could bring along such powerful side effects?!
But, we all know that fighting cancer is not only a physical fight but a mental and social one as well. Incorporating humor into your day will not only decrease mental and physical stress but it will also help us cope with our circumstances more effectively. Taking time to intentionally laugh and find humor will allow our minds and bodies a chance to relax and reset. Laughter can be a welcome distraction from the harshness of a cancer reality.
Laughter can bring people together, even just for a moment in time. These moments may be few at first, but they are sacred. Living with cancer and caring for those with cancer can be crippling and mentally debilitating. Humor may be scarce but its presence is critical for the well-being of the patient, the caregiver and the relationships that surround us. Sharing a few laughs can improve relationships, ease tension, make relating to one another easier and time spent together more meaningful.
The reality of cancer though, is sometimes, we don’t feel like laughing. Many times, it is difficult to get out of bed in the morning much less find reasons to turn our frowns upside down. Right?
What if I told you that research suggests that our bodies cannot tell the difference between a genuine laugh and a forced, disingenuine chuckle? Humor can actually be learned! So never fear! If you have a nonexistent sense of humor or one that is out of practice, good news! We can fake it till we make it! Karyn Buxman, a registered nurse and author says, “You don’t need to be funny, you just need to see funny. Most people can learn to be appreciators of humor while not having to be initiators.”
How to add laughter to your cancer journey:
- Start with a simple smile. It’s contagious. Practice often. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
- Be intentional about humor. Surround yourself with things that make you smile or laugh. Find some photos, a comic strip, funny joke or greeting card and hang them up in your house or put a funny reminder in your car. Even one of those obnoxious bobble heads will do!
- Share a laugh. The internet is full of opportunities to chuckle with a few clicks of the mouse. Whether it’s watching a hilarious video on YouTube, subscribing to a joke-of-the-day website, or getting buying a great joke book; seek out opportunities to smile and then pass them along to a friend.
- Spend time with people who make you laugh. We all have at least one friend or loved one that has a contagious sense of humor. If not, go out and find some new friends who like to smile often and laugh…A LOT!
- Watch funny movies or T.V. programs together.
- Bring humor into your conversations. Be intentional about asking people: What is the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week?
- Laugh at yourself. Life can be tough and circumstances can be overwhelming. When life permits, try not to take yourself so seriously. Openly share embarrassing moments or a time when you couldn’t help but laugh at yourself…like that time you put your car keys in the refrigerator or when you walked out of the house with two different shoes on. Come on, it happens.
- Keep things in perspective. Most things in life are out of our control. Try to make the best of the situation you find yourself in and desperately look for the gift.
- Know what IS NOT funny. Laugh with others, not at them or at their expense. Everyone’s sense of humor is different and not always appropriate. Use prayer to discern timing and type of humor.
What Do You Have to Lose?
Laughter is free. What do you have to lose? As a caregiver, I know there are some downright miserable days along this cancer road. Some days, we are doing well just to get a shower! But, might I challenge you to give this laughing thing a whirl?
Even when smiling or laughing may be the very last think you feel like doing, choose to do it anyway. It might feel awkward or unnatural. But, practicing will train our bodies to receive the physical, mental and social benefits that laughter brings.
According to alternative medicine pioneer, Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, “Silly is the best pill you take.”