Why Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

Approaching life with humour is not something that I learned to do. It is something that I have always done, from the time I was a wee one. I cannot take any credit for being that way. It was Mother Nature’s gift.

In fact, I do not know how one can learn to see things through that lens if it doesn’t come naturally, but I suppose it must happen. Maybe on the heels of a life changing event, such as, a-hem, a cancer diagnosis. Any of you who were born all serious and buttoned up who later learned to see the funny in things please pipe up and tell me how that came about (and how it’s working out for you).

Now don’t get me wrong. Not everything is funny. Some things are just plain ole horrible or sad or grotesque or infuriating. And that’s life. But a lot is funny that might not appear to be on the surface. Living life that way is all I have ever known and it is sure one helpful tool when the gauntlet has been thrown down.

Some things would be funny to almost anyone, such as the time my mother and I were in an argument about God knows what (I was a teenager so…) and as things really hottened up I noticed that she had a glob of sour cream on her eyebrow, at which point I burst into laughter and the argument was over.

Other things are funny to one person and absolutely unfunny to the next, such as the time one of my good college friends, Jen, was looking to see if her roommate was in the Georgetown Kinko’s (now FedEx for you youngsters). Squinting to combat the glare, she approached that window slowly but surely until she misjudged and walked right into the plate-glass, slamming her forehead into it, clapping her hand to the area and yelling “ow!” Having seen this unfold (and after making a snap determination that first aid was not required), I fell right on the sidewalk when my knees buckled due to uncontrollable laughter. I know my mother would not have found this funny. But I did. Sorry, Mom.

A third category is things that are probably not very funny to most people, but are to a select few of us weirdos. Like the fact that after brushing off (so to speak) hair loss, deciding to shave my head, and embracing my new look, I promptly got, on the back of my head, simultaneously, a case of the shingles and a red bumpy rash due to being immunosuppressed by the chemotherapy. So I went from being bald and badass to bald and rashy and rather un-badass in a matter of days. Lovely. But to me, kind of funny, because what can you do?

Things brings me to a public service announcement: If you are over a certain age, had the chicken pox as a child and have not been vaccinated for the shingles, you might want to get on that. Shingles isn’t tons of fun, but I was lucky and mine was not that bad, considering that one description I read (on the internet — oops) indicated that the site felt like a hot ice pick was being inserted into it intermittently. That might not have been funny to me either.

So back to humour. Humour is why I am actually looking forward to my sixth chemotherapy treatment tomorrow. When I strode in two weeks ago in my ridiculous leopard-print outfit (see What I Wore To  Chemo Today if you haven’t read it yet), I made a lot of people laugh. And that made me laugh, and made me happy. Then it really wasn’t so bad to be there. It lightened the mood, made us forget a little bit why we were there.

The only thing that isn’t funny about the whole thing is now I feel a mounting pressure to come up with an equally groovy outfit to wear to chemo tomorrow, and I don’t know if I can deliver! So I am going to distract myself by making some cancer-killing roasted Roma tomato soup from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, an excellent cook book that my friend Dee  got for me. Whether you need to kill it or just cook up some tasty meals (don’t let the c-word in the title put you off).

Ciao for now.

8 thoughts on “Why Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

  1. Two years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of driving Tom and Betsy Reed’s car from Oberlin to Camp Pemi in New Hampshire. Tom was coming up on 95 and had been in a nursing hoe all the previous winter with a variety of ailments, but he was determined to get back for one last summer at Pemi, and by God he did–dying there peacefully surrounded by loved ones a few weeks later.

    But first, when I visited him at the nursing home, he was in a wheelchair, with an O2 tube up the nose, and tying to find his glasses to go to PT. The tube got tangled in something, the nurse made it worse trying to undo it, and the two of them ended up convulsed with laughter. Tom looked at me, recovering, and said “I can’t imagine what it would be like to get this old without a sense of humor!”

    I am son hoping I keep that in mind, if I get to be that old!

  2. I remember a REALLY funny (funny for all….) incident in which I was at your house and we were getting ready to go outside to sunbathe. I had a new very sexy bikini that I was eager to model. I thought I was pretty hot at age 15…..as is evident by certain photographs in your mother’s possession that reared their ugly heads at my wedding (the only amusing thing that happened at my wedding BTW….) but I digress….

    There was someone at your house of the male persuasion…I can’t remember who it was, but the two of you were waiting for me as I changed in the bathroom downstairs at your mom’s. The bathroom is pretty small and maneuvering out of my clothes and into the new tiny swimwear bottoms must have been difficult…because as I emerged from the tiny room….something was WRONG….I remember knowing this only because of the look on your face. I am not sure how I did not notice, but I had a frontal wedgie.

    yes….a frontal wedgie….

    I am not even certain if these existed before this incident, or if I invented them on that day. I don’t even know if anyone else in the universe has ever had another one to date….but there was no doubt….it happened to me on that day. There was no such thing back then as a “trendy vagina” so there I was, standing there in front of you and some random male character with half exposed vag….too bad I didn’t have a vag toupee that day!!

  3. I was with you that day in Georgetown! I still remember it and laugh (you are well aware that I’m one of the weirdos too!). You were also the direct cause of one my best “funny” memories, which I would like to share with your readers (as further evidence of your sense of humour (hey, I don’t get many chances to use silly English spellings)). It was the summer of 1996. I was coming off my first year of law school and you were readying yourself for yours. We were seated in the decidely NOT first class compartment of a train making its way from Southern France to Barcelona. As usual, your raiment was stylish and happy, and the day’s ensemble included your purple clogs. The train car was full, but not packed, so we were spread out, each taking over a full bench (some of which faced into each other so that the passengers were looking in both directions). The train approached a tunnel in the Pyrenees and, as it entered, the train car — until that moment bathed in the light coming off the Mediterranean — snapped immediately to pitch black (no lights in second class!). The tunnel wasn’t long, and within seconds the train emerged, again brightened by the summer sun. All was the same, save for one minor detail. One of your lovely purple clogs was no longer on your foot; instead it was perched, upside-down like some marvelous English hat, atop your head. You sat still and ramrod straight and, as I turned to look at you, I saw the the clog-hat in all its glory and laughed loudly and hard, drawing the attention of our fellow passengers. Ever the consummate commedienne, you kept still as they all turned to see, and they lost control, one by one, and joined in on the joke. In that moment, you did what you have done so many times before, and what I so admire about you: you drew your fellow travelers in and gave them joy. You turned their dull journey into something to be remembered. Seconds earlier, they were merely strangers on a train. Seconds later, they were your fans.

  4. Emily, I have been reading every entry with great interest and empathy. It has been 17yrs. since by diagnosis and all has been well. In the beginning you pray that everything will be alright and as the years pass you think of it less often… but never forget about it completely. Sometimes in the quiet of the night,when you are having trouble falling asleep, you feel a little more mortal but then you convince yourself that you will be a survivor and you are able to fall asleep. I appreciate all that you are going through and know that, in time, your life will be back to normal and breast cancer will be distant memory. All my love, Sharon Mone

  5. That sour cream story is a total fabrication, which I absolutely refute. What about the time you were so infuriating I hit you on the head with a frozen tomato. I thought THAT was pretty funny. And I’m surprised you didn’t regale your throngs of international blog followers with the allen wrench episode, which had us both (well, finally me) doubled over in hysterical tears. It’s genetic, Dude. And remember, humor is a sign of intelligence. That being so, you’re one smart babe.

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