Welcome to -
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. Ill
occasionally leave you with a joke. This will usually be related to cancer, or some other
source of stress in our lives. If youve 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
By Paul McGhee, PhD.
"A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast."
A nurse recently told me of a Methodist minister who had been in a serious accident and
had to spend several weeks in the hospital. He had a lot of pain, and was given shots to
reduce it. The procedure was always the same. When the pain got bad enough, he would ring
a buzzer near his bed, and a nurse would soon come to give him the shot. One day, he rang
for the nurse and then rolled over on his side (with his back to the door), pulled his
hospital gown up over his exposed backside, and waited for the nurse to come in. When he
heard the door open, he pointed to his right bare buttock and said, "Why don't you
give me the shot right here this time?"
After a few moments of silence, he looked up. It was a woman from his church! Following a
brief embarrassing conversation, the woman left, and the minister--realizing what he had
done--started laughing. He laughed so hard that tears were coming out of his eyes when the
nurse arrived. When he tried to explain what had happened, he began laughing even harder.
When he was finally able to tell the nurse the whole story, what do you think he noticed?
His pain was gone! He didn't need the shot, and didn't ask for one for another 90 minutes.
At some point following their diagnosis of cancer, many cancer patients find themselves
thinking, "How will I deal with the pain?" The last coping resource they
consider is their sense of humor. And yet there are many stories like the one above, along
with a growing body of scientific research, showing that humor and laughter can play a
significant role in reducing pain.
The idea that laughter has analgesic properties is not new. Dr. James Walsh, an American
physician, noted in his 1928 book, Laughter and Health, that laughter appeared to reduce
the level of pain experienced following surgery. This observation then disappeared from
the medical literature until the publication of Norman Cousins' 1979 book, Anatomy of an
Cousins was suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative spinal disease which
left him in almost constant pain. With the consent of his doctors, he checked himself out
of the hospital and into a hotel across the street. He invited friends over and watched a
lot of comedy films--and laughed a lot! He discovered that as little as 10 minutes of
laughter would give him 2 hours of pain-free sleep.
Several studies have now documented the pain-reducing power of humor and laughter. In one
study, watching or listening to humorous tapes increased the length of time participants
were able to keep their hand in ice water before it became painful. Another study showed
that those who found the comedy material funnier were able to endure the ice water longer
than those who found it less funny.
In a study of 35 patients in a rehabilitation hospital, 74% agreed with the statement,
"Sometimes laughing works as well as a pain pill." These patients had a broad
range of conditions, such as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, limb
amputations, and other neurological or musculoskeletal disorders.
The explanation for why laughter reduces pain is not yet clear. While most people assume
that it's because of the production of endorphins (one of the body's natural pain
killers), there is still no scientific evidence to support this view. The reduced pain may
also be because of the muscle relaxation that occurs from laughter, or because humor and
laughter distract us from the source of pain.
If you're a chronic pain suffer, it doesn't really matter why humor and laughter ease your
pain. The important thing is that it does. So you can just accept it as a gift on the days
when you manage to find something to laugh at.
While laughter clearly helps ease pain for many individuals, it doesn't do so for
everyone. It is not clear at this point just what kinds of pain a good laugh can and
cannot soothe. The best advice at this point is to just build more laughter into your life
and see whether it works for you. What do you have to lose? Even if it doesn't eliminate
your pain, it will boost your spirits and bring more joy into your life on the difficult
[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.