Laughter: It's A Family Affair!

By Christine Clifford, CSP

Three days after undergoing breast cancer surgery in December, '94, I heard the doorbell ring downstairs from my place of rest in my bedroom. "Mom!" screamed my second-grader Brooks, "More flowers for your breast!"

It was a turning point for me, his innocent statement which brought laughter to my already developing self-pity. After all, as a young child of fifteen, I had been forced to watch my mother crawl into bed with a diagnosis of cancer at the age of 38. In the months that followed my mother's radical mastectomy, I, along with my brothers and sister, watched in horror as she sank into a deep, clinical depression.

She stopped caring for her personal hygiene-- stopped washing her hair, shaving her legs, brushing her teeth. Eventually my father, a physician, unable to deal with my mother's depression, left my mother. She died in my arms at the age of 42. I was nineteen years old.

I made a pivotal decision that day as I lay in bed, that no matter how many weeks, months, or years I had left on this planet, that I would celebrate every day as a gift. I decided no matter what happened to me, I would not allow my family members to live in the fear I had as a child, that every day might be my last. I realized that humor would be the compelling force to pull me through.

Once I started searching for signs of humor, I found it all around me. One day I was sitting on our deck reading the paper, my bald head gleaming in the morning sunrise. Brooks, along with several neighborhood children, had pitched a tent in the backyard and spent the night outside. In their innocence and ignorance, as the kids woke up one by one, they started their morning conversation. Of course, since I couldn't see them in the tent, they assumed I couldn't hear them either.

"Brooks," began Rishi, our neighbor from India, peering from the mesh windows of the tent, "What's the matter with your mom again?"
"She has cancer," Brooks responded.
"Is she going to die?" I heard him inquire.
"No…I don't think so," said Brooks.
"You know, Brooks, her head looks like a baseball. Do you think she'd let us autograph it?"

Families can be a great source of comfort and humor in tough times. Unfortunately, what often happens when we hear a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer is that we don't know what to say, or we don't want to say the wrong thing. So, often times, we don't say anything and pull away from the patient who so desperately needs our attention.

Humor is a great connector of people. I know I needed people, especially family members, around me as I faced my journey with cancer. Therefore, it is often the patients themselves who need to "set the tone" and let family members know the timing is right to bring laughter back into their life.

How can we accomplish this? It's simple: there comes a point in the life of most patients when they realize that they can't change their situation, but they can change their attitude. They want their life to get back to normal, and humor is an important ingredient in the recovery process.

Set The Tone to let family members, friends and caregivers know you are ready for laughter again. Share a funny story about something that happened years ago with your family. Rent a funny movie and ask your family to watch it with you. Cut out a cartoon from the paper that brought a smile to your face and mail to to your family members with a note that says, "I'm doing much better now. Thanks for your support."

Keep The Momentum Going to encourage humor with your family members. If you've read a funny book that filled your heart with laughter and joy, pass it around to family members with a note on which parts you found particularly humorous. Tell a joke you've recently heard, or send family members an article that tickled your funny bone.

It's Like A Rubber Ball: It Comes Bouncing Back To You! Once you've opened to door to humor, it's contagious. Family members and friends will realize that laughter is the best medicine they can provide you. After all, learning to laugh at trouble radically increases the amount of things there are to laugh at.

Take time, make the time every day to love, learn, explore, care and live with your family members. And, by the way, don't forget to laugh! ™

Christine Clifford , CSP is CEO/President of The Cancer Club, a company that markets humorous and helpful products for people with cancer ( ). She is the author of eight books including her newest book Laugh ' Til It Heals: Notes from the World's Funniest Cancer Mailbox and her best-seller Not Now... I'm Having a No Hair Day! Don't forget to laugh!

Email Christine at!/thecancerclub!/c_clifford

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