I believe in humor. In my 20s I had a cartoon taped to my refrigerator. A poker faced couple sitting on a couch. He was saying, “Always remember to keep your sense of humor, Etta, it’s the only thing that separates us from the scum.” Although the cartoon has crumbled and drifted to the winds, its sentiment is my credo.
Humor has gotten me through parenthood, illness, loss of jobs and loss of loved ones. It has been the underpinning of my work life with the mantra, “Do everything seriously, take nothing seriously.” And it has been the basis of a 22 year marriage, which began with a vow to always maintain our ability to laugh at ourselves.
It was during my bout with cancer five years ago that humor became the most important tool for survival. The day after I got the pathology report from my lumpectomy and learned that I had, not one, but two tumors in my breast and lots of lymph nodes involved, I sat in a classy restaurant with my best friend. Tears streamed down my cheeks. All I could focus on was what I would miss should I be on the other side of the 62 percent survival rate Dr. Susan Love predicted. I wandered in a fog of self pity and grief. Suddenly it hit me: damn it, if I have only two years to live I’m spending them laughing!
Thus, began my weekly observations on cancer. I would have chemotherapy on Friday and by Monday I would be really sick. Those mornings I crawled up to my office in the attic and began to write pithy little statements about this experience:
What can be said for a treatment regime that causes both weight gain and anorexia? That is like an unwanted pregnancy caused by artificial insemination.
What is with the hair loss? I have lost my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, but my leg and chin hair is growing just fine. I think chin hair is like the cockroach. It can survive a nuclear blast. If a woman were hit by a nuclear device they would find only her shadow and her chin hair on the ground.
It was writing funny bits and enjoying the image of my friends laughing at their desks that got me through each of the 12 treatments.
This year we face cancer again, only this time it is my husband who is suffering through the bi-weekly treatments. We are now experienced at laughing in the face of horror. In the recovery room after his colon resection, I kissed him and told him how fortunate he was they did not have to do colostomy. He whispered back, “Great, now I begin my career as a Chippendale.”
It’s trite, but laughter is the best medicine. But its more than that, it’s the best parenting tool as we use it to tease our kids away from something they shouldn’t. It’s the best salve for grief, as we remember all times we giggled or howled with our lost loved one. It’s the secret to a long marriage as we laugh at the stupid mistakes we make over and over again. And it is the legacy we give our children, the lesson that nothing is ever that bad.
And so I believe that laughter is the single force that keeps us going. Without it can we really ever rise above the pond scum?
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