I Find Hope in Cancer-themed Humor

I Find Hope in Cancer-themed Humor
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I have a confession: I like cancer humor.

I would share a cancer joke, but I know it’s not everyone’s thing. Some people are offended by it. Some are saddened by it. Some are angered.

But a good cancer joke can usually make me laugh.

I couldn’t always laugh at cancer. My cancer diagnosis came out of nowhere. My life became a whirlwind of scans and blood tests and biopsies. I didn’t have time to think. Then about 10 days after my diagnosis, I saw a specialist. And that’s when it hit me. For the next two weeks, I’d burst into tears every half hour or so. It was the darkest time of my life, without a doubt. I could find no humor and no joy.

Then after a long talk with my wife, I started to crawl out of that hole. And eventually, I got back to my old self, using laughter as a way of coping. It was, for me, a sign that hope had returned.

I’ll give you an example: The treatment I received for my follicular lymphoma was rituximab. It’s a monoclonal antibody containing mouse cells. When I had my first round of rituximab, I had an allergic reaction (which is very common) and developed a severe rash and chills.

Writing about the experience on my blog, I joked that despite the allergic reaction, the worst side effect of those mouse cells was that they made me fantasize about Minnie Mouse. (My wife was good enough to help me recreate the moment for a photo).

My Minnie Mouse moment. (Courtesy of Bob McEachern)

Another example: I celebrate my “diagnosiversary” every year, and my daughter usually makes a cake. She’s an accomplished cake decorator. One year she made me these: cupcakes made to look like B lymphocytes, the cells that become cancerous in follicular lymphoma.

B-cell cupcakes. (Courtesy of Bob McEachern)

I like cancer humor because it reminds me of the heroes in action movies who use humor when confronted with dangerous situations.

Take Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator.” He finally meets his enemy, and his reaction is: “You are one ugly mother f —–.”

Or Jessica Jones in “The Defenders.” She is fighting an army of supernatural enemies. When she meets them in their underground lair, she says, “Look, I don’t give a s— what you guys are doing … down here … in your secret … ‘cave thing.’ I just came to talk.”

What do they have in common? They come face-to-face with something dangerous, even deadly, and they laugh in its face.

And that’s how I feel about cancer. I don’t want the villain to have the satisfaction of thinking I’m scared. Joking about cancer doesn’t make it go away. But it brings it down to earth a little bit.

I know that not everyone can joke about cancer. But it works for me.

I mean, it’s pretty hard to be afraid of something you’re about to eat.


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