The Humor in Chemotherapy


The humor in chemotherapy.  Can it be found?  Many physicians will tell you that laughter is the best medicine, and indeed  it would seem to be true.  How does that line up with sitting in a chemotherapy recliner, hooked up to the only hope a patient has for continuing to live a long, full life?

The American Cancer Society lets patients know that cancer is not caused by a person’s negative attitude. “You might be better able to manage your life and cancer treatment when you are able to look at things in a positive light, but that’s not always possible either. As long as a patient treats the difficult times with a healthy attitude, then that will suffice. Some days will be good, some will be not so great, but most of us know that this is the natural course of life anyway, with or without cancer.”

Thirteen-year old Cesar Navarro, of Salt Lake City, Utah, used music to bring him into comfort and positivity.  Cesar had to deal with chemotherapy and radiation, and he said, “I had hard nights. And I would just listen to music that would calm me down.” Cesar volunteered to spin the music for everyone at the Gallivan Teen Center’s annual tree lighting ceremony, sharing the gift he unexpectedly found about one year ago.

Majella O’Donnell, Irish performer and singer, recorded an album on the prompting of her husband’s band member. The Irish girl from Thurles had seen her dreams realized as she became somewhat famous. Majella still finds it ‘truly unbelievable’, though apparently her children seem remarkably unimpressed. What her fans find most impressive is Majella’s ability to fight breast cancer without losing her dreams.

The businesswoman appeared on the Late Late Show in September to have her head shaved for the Irish Cancer Society, and touched many people with her story. So many, in fact, that the ICS‘s online donations system collapsed.

In other news, a study has shown that women who undergo chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer have cognitive challenges as a result.  These measurable deficits are shown in women even six months after the last chemo session.  Compared to controls, the women had moderate to large deficiencies in cognition. Humor may help to stimulate brain function, but more likely, a therapist would be working on brain building activities, which might include humor.

Today more than ever before, cancer patients are turning to humor for therapy and healing. Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses, and many hospitals now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment to illness.  According to medical studies, laughter can boost a person’s immune system as well as stimulate the lungs and heart. Even pain can be reduced through a hearty “har har.”

There are also laughter clubs and support groups included in many of the cancer treatment centers in the US.  It is believed to be beneficial for both patients and their families, whom often need a comical respite.  Christine Clifford remembers while she was in treatment for breast cancer her daughter answered a ring at the door, and then shouted upstairs,”Mom, more flowers for your breast!”

Ms. Clifford said she realized then that laughter does go along with cancer.

To find the humor in chemotherapy may take a large stretch of the imagination, but it helps to laugh at oneself, if only to keep from crying.

By Lisa M Pickering

American Cancer Society

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