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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.

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Humor Your Tumor
(May, 1999)

By Paul McGhee, PhD.

Psychoneuroimmunology and Humor
I. Introduction

"The simple truth is that happy people generally don't get sick." --Bernie Siegel, MD

In last month's Humor Your Tumor column, we saw that humor and laughter have a powerful immunoenhancing effect. Looking at an hour-long comedy video that makes you laugh is enough to boost many different components of your immune system, helping to assure that your body's own natural defense system is working optimally to help you battle not only cancer, but other threats to good health as well.

Of course, you don't always have your VCR or a comedy video with you when you need a good laugh, so it's essential to begin taking some steps to improve your sense of humor so that you can generate your own immune-system-strengthening laughter. We will show you how to do this in future columns. If you're ready to start now, see my 8-Step Program for learning to use humor to cope, presented in my book (at www.LaughterRemedy.com), Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training.

This month, we begin a series of articles aimed at helping you place the healing power of humor within the larger framework of psychoneuroimmunology. This new field of medical research is investigating the mind-body relationship in new ways. It examines such areas as the impact of your thoughts, moods, emotions, and belief systems upon the body's basic health and healing mechanisms.

One PNI expert, Dr. Ron Anderson, noted in Bill Moyers book, Healing and the Mind, that "there is no question that your body and your mind tied together help you fight infection." Whether or not you get any illness depends on your body's ability to fight off infection and disease. In 1980 (prior to the onset of AIDS), the departing editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Franz Ingelfinger, estimated that 85% of all human illnesses are curable by the body's own healing system.

We've known for a long time that good nutrition, exercise, adequate sleep, avoidance of harmful drugs, and the adoption of good sanitary habits in our daily activities aide the body's ability to do this. And we now know that doing things to build a positive attitude into your daily life is equally important. And your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to sustain a positive frame of mind--even on the tough days.

The body responds favorably to positive attitudes, thoughts, moods, and emotions (e.g., love, hope, optimism, caring, intimacy, joy, laughter and humor), and negatively to negative ones (anger, hopelessness, pessimism, anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc.). So it is important to organize your life so as to take control of keeping the balance in favor of as positive a focus as possible.

This doesn't mean that you should avoid experiencing or expressing negative emotions. You need to find ways to express whatever emotions you feel. Candace Pert, a former Chief of the Section of Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neurosciences Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health studies influences upon health at the neurochemical level. She noted recently that "repressing emotions can only be causative of disease." Failure to find effective ways to express negative emotions causes you to "stew in your own juices" day after day, and this chronic immersion in negativity is what appears to produce harmful influences on health.

When you first hear the words "You have cancer," it is perfectly normal to experience and express your shock and anger. This is an essential step in moving beyond these emotions toward acceptance of the reality of the disease, and taking effective steps to battle it. It is also essential to learning to live with cancer--even after your cancer is in remission.

After you move through the stages of acceptance and learning to cope with your cancer, you may still be left with a life-long personal style that leads you to hold negative emotions in, instead of expressing them. The real health threat here comes not from isolated incidents of negative emotion, but from negativity as a habitual style. So you need techniques and skills which prevent you from wallowing in resistance-lowering negative moods and emotions. The longer and more often these negative states persist in your mind/body, the greater the likelihood that they will lead to some negative influence on your health.

As Bernie Siegel has long emphasized, love is a powerful force that can help keep us from getting stuck in negativity. But humor is also especially effective in substituting a positive for a negative mood. And remember, it's never too late to learn to lighten up.

[Adapted from Dr. McGhee's book, Health, Healing and the Amuse System: Humor as Survival Training. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt, 1996.]


[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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Click HERE for additional articles by Dr. McGhee on Humor and health/coping.

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