Using Humor to Cope With Cancer
When I noticed blood in my urine, my doctors sent me to get an ultrasound to rule out anything serious. Instead, what they found was a 4-cm mass on the surface of my bladder. Nervous, but not yet fully alarmed, I texted my mom to let her know the news.
“They found some mass on my bladder,” I said. “I don't know anything else, they just used the word mass. It could be a number of things.”
“Hmm,” she responded. “Maybe you should go to Mass and pray. Get it?”
Her humor was a welcome distraction
While others might be shocked at her response or tempted to write her off as callous, her humor was a welcome distraction (and a reminder that God, at least my understanding of Him, would help carry me through whatever my diagnosis turned out to be). It's a cliché to say that laughter is the best medicine, but in my case, I can say for certain that it helped sustain me during the uncertainty pre- and post-diagnosis. Getting cancer wasn't funny, but laughing at it took the sting out considerably.
My first cystoscopy
My parents babysat the kids when I went to the urologist for my first cystoscopy, after the ultrasound and a week before the TURBT. The purpose of the appointment was to get a closer look at the “mass” that showed up on the ultrasound screen – something the doctor assured me could very well be a shadow or a cyst. What appeared on the screen, however, was very clearly cancer. Although nobody could make a definitive diagnosis until the tumor was removed and examined, the urologist told me with sad eyes that it, unfortunately, looked very much like a cancerous growth.
Later, at my parents' house, I collapsed in an upstairs bedroom while my mom distracted the kids downstairs. My husband, stunned, comforted me as I sobbed, certain I was going to die.
Crying and joking
“Die?” My husband said. “Are you kidding me? You've got at least fifty or sixty more years left with me. I don't care what anyone says – you're not going anywhere.” Through my tears, I started to laugh.
While the next few weeks were peppered with crying and panic attacks, joking about cancer gave me a brief reprieve from the near-constant anxiety. Whenever my husband went to get groceries I'd text him from home with a list of treats I wanted him to pick up – ice cream, cookies, or a movie rental I had been wanting to see. “It's my make-a-wish,” I'd tell him. “I have cancer, remember? So you basically have to.” He did, every time.
Humor can be empowering
Apparently, I'm not the only one who does this. Researchers say that joking about cancer, even though the subject is taboo, actually serves to empower individuals, lessen feelings of isolation, reduce stress, and foster community. Humor can literally be life-saving.
I can't help but laugh
Fortunately, in a very short amount of time, I got a diagnosis and a TURBT, followed by a fairly uneventful recovery. Two and a half years later, there is no evidence of disease, and every cystoscopy has come back clean. Still, the shock of getting a cancer diagnosis in my late twenties hasn't entirely left me. When I remember my diagnosis – and when I think about how bladder cancer has a high rate of recurrence – I stop, take a deep breath, and force myself to laugh at it. After all – who gets bladder cancer in their twenties, having none of the risk factors for it? Me, that's who. It's so ridiculous, I can't help but laugh.
Did you know that May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month?