About a month before my cancer diagnosis in 1990 I was a reporter for a local paper and writing a story about the new cancer support group at the local hospital. I interviewed the local oncologist, Dr. Marc Hirsh for the story and visited his office. When I walked by the chemo room, I glanced in at all the patients in recliners hooked up to IVs. It was an incredibly scary picture to me. But what was even scarier was that the patients were laughing. I remember thinking: They must not know they had cancer. I went home that day and told my husband, “If I ever had cancer, I definitely would not be sitting there laughing.”
Four weeks later when I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 36, I definitely was not laughing. When I went for my first chemo treatment to that same oncology office, I was so frightened. And I knew I would never laugh while hooked up to an I.V. getting toxic chemicals.
But that was before I met Marc’s head chemo nurse, Ruth, who was with him since he opened his office in 1989. I can’t recall what silly thing she uttered, but before I knew what had happened, she had me laughing too.
There was still nothing funny about having cancer or getting chemo or not knowing if I would see my daughters grow up or if my husband would bury another wife, but every time I laughed it felt so good and reminded me that I was still alive.
So I decided I needed to keep my sense of humor and started to look for funny things in spite of my serious predicament.
One of the first things my family found to joke about was the new chemo pill I took—Levamisole. It was a newly approved oral medicine, and I was the first patient at Marc’s office to take it. I soon learned that in reality it was a worming medicine designed to kill intestinal parasites in sheep and dogs.
Whenever I took a pill, I started barking and chasing my squealing daughters around the house. My husband mentioned to our friends that I had been wormed and he was thinking of getting me a rabies shot too. The pills were very expensive and my husband often suggested we call the vet to see if we could get them cheaper there. (A regular comedian, huh?)
My support groups always have had a reputation for a lot of laughing and every time we laughed together, it reminded us that we’re alive . . . and that always is worth celebrating. If you don’t have a funny oncology nurse or a laughing support group nearby (or a comedian husband!), Dave Dravecky’s Outreach of Hope offers five suggestions to “strengthen your funny bone”:
- Start your own comedy collection of jokes and cartoons. Do an Internet search for “clean jokes” and you’ll find some good laughs. Post them at your desk or on your fridge so you can remind yourself to laugh. (Do you know how to make Michigan cookies? Put them in a bowl and beat them for three hours!–OK maybe that’s only funny if you’re a Buckeye like me!)
- Get your groceries and get a chuckle by reading some of the tabloid headlines while standing in line. (I just read about aliens with anorexia and manure as a miracle cure for arthritis!) Of course, when I purchase these magazines they are business expenses because I share the stories in my laughter talk 🙂
- Hang out at the greeting-card racks and enjoy reading funny cards (wash your hands first and don’t eat an ice cream cone while you do this!). You can even buy a funny card to brighten someone’s day! (One day at work I received a card with an odd-looking old man on the front, which said: “I bet I can still float your boat…even if I don’t have both oars in the water!” It was from my wonderful husband to cheer me up.)
- Become a humorous people groupie by hanging out with funny people, like my dear friend “Grandma” Doris, a 79-year-old, three-time colorectal cancer survivor, who often livened up our meeting introductions by wearing goofy glasses or showing off her silly souvenirs. (Either you’re a funny friend or you need one!)
- Make the most of embarrassing moments. (Did I tell you about the time a pair of my underwear dropped out of my jeans’ pant leg onto the floor of a Christian bookstore while I was shopping there?……….Never mind.)
In his book The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren writes that our first purpose in life is to please God. Or as Warren puts it, “The smile of God is the goal of your life.”[i]
Cancer or any trial in life can and often take things away from us and from our families, but they needn’t take away our goal in life—to please God—to make Him smile.
No matter what you’ve gone through or what still lies ahead—whether you have no cancer, a little cancer or a lot of cancer; whether your trial disappears, grows more intense or perhaps never leaves—will you choose joy? Will you choose to please God and bring a smile to His face? It is your choice. You can choose to keep (or get) a sense of humor even in the shadow of the darkest trial.
I have a blessing for you from the book of Numbers as you try to find joy today:
May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you His favor
and give you His peace. (6:24-26)
[i] Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002), 202.