Laughter is the Best Medicine
Christine K. Clifford, breast cancer survivor and CEO/President of The Cancer Club
This is a summary of a lecture presented on July 10, 2001.
The subject of humor and its healing powers has been written about, researched, analyzed, recommended and embraced since the beginning of time. With “alternative therapy” as the buzzword of the 90’s, I like to think of laughter as a “complimentary therapy” in conjunction with traditional and alternative medicines for the new millennium.
Yet I’m often asked, “Christine, I can’t think of a single thing that is humorous about the cancer experience.” When someone makes that observation, I challenge them to close their eyes and think about: what is the number one thing that makes YOU laugh?
I hope that just thinking about laughter brings a smile to your face. There are all kinds of things that make me laugh: animals, children, jokes, memories, visual stimulation, even awkward situations. The year I was going through my treatments, I was at a professional golf tournament in Arizona watching my three idols in golf: Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd and Tom Weiskopf. A gust of wind came up and blew my hat (and hair!) right off my head into the middle of the fairway. The gallery went silent as I slipped under the ropes, wandered into the middle of the course, grabbed my wig and hat and turned to the golfers. “Gentlemen, ” I offered, “the wind is blowing left to right.”
They say that the laughter could be heard all the way back to the clubhouse, and I realized that once again, laughter is the best medicine.
Webster defines laughter as “that which expresses amusement, mirth, contempt, fear by inarticulate, explosive sounds which result from the forcing of air from the lungs, usually accompanied by convulsive muscular movements, especially of the face.” If I didn’t know better, I’d say that’s what I used to look like when I was going through chemotherapy!
Certainly laughter is not an emotion that most people think of when they try to define dealing with the cancer experience. However, the process it takes to get through treatment for cancer is long, usually a minimum of six months to often years. If you don’t find laughter in that amount of time, you will dry up.
Think about how you feel when you laugh . . . you feel pleasure; you feel release; you feel good; you feel satisfied; you feel happy; you feel healthy; you want to do it again!
The other day an elderly gentleman, completely bald from chemotherapy approached me and asked, “Christine, do you notice anything different about me?” “No, I can’t say that I do.” I offered. With that he replied, “I’ve parted my hair on the other side!”
Can you remember the first time you laughed after receiving your diagnosis of cancer? I recall thinking that I might never laugh again, so deep was the pain and shock of hearing those three little words . . . “You have cancer.”
My first response was to cry, for three days, without stopping. It was the day after Christmas, and my husband and I sat down with our two little boys to give them the news.
“Your mother has a disease called ‘cancer,’ began my husband, John. “She’ll be going into the hospital this week for some surgery. She will be having some treatments that may cause her to become sick and lose her hair.”
“Cool!” exclaimed Tim, ten years old at the time. “Now you’ll look like Captain Picard on Star Trek!” I couldn’t help but laugh. And I realized that that was the first time I had laughed in eight days! You will laugh again. Sometimes the impossible just takes a little longer.
Have there ever been things in your life that you’ve always wanted to do, but for a variety of reasons, you just never got around to doing them? Then something like a diagnosis of cancer comes into your life, and you decide, “I better start doing those things.” One of the things I had always wanted to do was take a hot-air balloon ride. So I loaded my entire family into the car, and off we drove at 5:30 a.m. for our “adventure.” We went up in a hot-air balloon, and it was a fabulous experience. I highly recommend it. When we landed, we were each given a “certificate of achievement,” along with a glass of champagne. But what really tickled me was that on the bottom of the certificate there was something called “The Balloonist’s Prayer.” I’d like to share it with you.
The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with his warm hands.
You have flown so well and so high that God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back again into the loving arms of Mother Earth.
Take the time, make the time to do those things you’ve always wanted to do. After all, you deserve it. Don’t forget to laugh!™
Christine K. Clifford is author of “Not Now … I’m Having a No Hair Day!” and “Our Family Has Cancer, Too!” Her web address is www.cancerclub.com
For reprint authorization, contact SimmsMannCenter@mednet.ucla.edu.