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Humor Your Tumor

This column will hereafter be a permanent feature of this web site, although its content will change monthly. It is dedicated to all individuals (and their loved ones) who are now battling cancer, and to Survivors whose cancer is in remission. I’ll occasionally leave you with a joke. This will usually be related to cancer, or some other source of stress in our lives. If you’ve heard a joke along these lines that you love, and would like to see it made available to everyone in this column, please send it to me at HaHaRemedy@viconet.com.


Humor Your Tumor
February, 2000

Paul E. McGhee, PhD

Learning to Use Humor to Cope
Step 3 (Part 2):
Telling Jokes & Stories


 "Comedy comes out of exposing the difficulties in life and laughing at them." (Louie Anderson)

Several years ago, I was doing a program for a cancer support group, and asked whether anyone in the group ever sought out or told jokes specifically related to cancer. One man told the following joke.

A man goes to the doctor and discovers that he has cancer and only has 24 hours to live. He tells his wife the bad news, and they do the best they can to cope.

That evening, his wife says, "Well, honey, you've got 12 hours left, what would you like to do? He says, "I want to make love." So they go upstairs and make passionate love the way they did when they first got married.

A couple hours later, she again asks, "Well, honey, you've got 10 hours to live. What would you like to do?" Once more he says, "I want to make love." So they take their clothes off and make love right there on the living room floor.

She later asks a third time, "Well honey, you've got 8 hours left. What would you like to do?" And again he says, "I want to make love one more time." And she says, "Well, that's easy for you to say, you don't have to get up in the morning!"

The rest of the group laughed and laughed. Both the men and the women loved the joke. I was surprised that no one seemed offended, and no one felt that the joke was inappropriate in a cancer support group. Several other members of the group also told a joke, and we then talked about the importance of being able to find humor not just in jokes about cancer, but in the everyday things that happen because of the cancer--or the treatments for it.

Most of them said that it took a long time before they could laugh at anything--let along something directly related to their cancer. The initial shock of hearing the words "you have cancer" had the immediate effect of destroying their sense of humor. It was only gradually that they were able to find something funny in connection with their cancer.

We talked about the fact that this is perfectly normal, and as it should be. You want to experience and express your shock and feelings of disbelief, anger, depression and anxiety. These are honest feelings, and are important to experience in your progress toward acceptance and commitment to battle the disease and learn to live with it. If you begin joking about your cancer soon after your diagnosis, it may be a form of denial of your illness. While denial is a common reaction to learning about one's cancer, persistent joking about it can serve to extend the period of denial much longer and create obstacles to a more healthy acceptance and commitment to begin coping with it.

One woman, upon receiving the news that she had breast cancer, spent 3 months telling people she hadn't seen for a while, "Well, the bad news is I have cancer. The good news is I'm biodegradeable." The fact that she began saying this the first day after her diagnosis suggests that she was using the humor to emotionally deny the reality of her cancer. She could not allow herself to confront something that came as a complete surprise and shock to her. The joking remark, in this case, is not healthy, and is very different from the jokes and other humor told in the support group described earlier.

So how do you know when joking about your cancer is and is not healthy for you personally? It is healthy when you have reached the stage of acceptance, and have decided to move on and live your life. Your sense of humor is not a magic bullet. It may or may not add years to your life; but it certainly will add life to your years. When you learn to find a light side of things on the tough days, you will be amazed at how this improves the quality of your daily life. Humor is one of the most powerful tools we have to cope with any personal crisis. The key is to avoid using humor to hide from the crisis. The power of humor lies in helping you cope with a situation you've accepted emotionally, but are still committed to battling.

If you had no history of telling jokes or funny anecdotes before your cancer, you will find it difficult to do so now. But there's a lot of power in being able to laugh

at things related to your illness in the context of a joke. It gives you the feeling

that "I can lick this thing; I may have cancer, but I'm not a victim." In the next issue of Humor Your Tumor, I'll offer specific guidelines for "do's" and "don'ts" when it comes to telling jokes.

[Note: Check this site every month for new information on how humor improves the quality of your life and helps you cope with cancer.] HaHaRemedy@viconet.com.

Click here to link to Dr. McGhee's web site at www.LaughterRemedy.com.


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