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Darryle Pollack

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What's So Funny About Cancer?

Posted: 10/11/11 06:39 PM ET

Cancer. Funny.

Two words I never thought I'd see -- or use -- in the same sentence.

Yet there they are. On the movie marquee. On television. And at the top of the New York Times Sunday Style section -- a feature piece called "Laughing at the Big C."

You're not alone if this whole subject makes you squirm, not smile.

What could there be to laugh about?

When I got cancer I was 44. I had a terrible diagnosis, two children and I had lost my own mom to cancer when she was 41. I figured I was headed down the same path. Honestly, I thought I'd never laugh -- or even smile -- again.

And then I learned -- what's so funny about cancer?

I learned that you can find humor in anything and everything -- if you choose to see it.

I learned that when it comes to cancer, the humor comes the way I drink coffee -- black.

I learned that as Jack Nicholson famously said, you have to handle the truth.

And the most surprising and significant thing I learned -- is that laughing about cancer is powerful.

Everything about cancer makes you feel powerless. From feeling like an object, forced to submit to prodding and poking... to the vast unknowns -- mysteries not only to you but also to your doctors... to the fact that you can't even control your own body, which has suddenly turned against you.

It feels as if cancer has all the power -- which is why it feels so good to take some power back.

The balance of power shifts when you can laugh in the face of what scares you most.
And sometimes, at a time like that, what else can you really do? Plus, it turns out that laughter itself is healing -- physically and emotionally.

When I had cancer I didn't know all that. But once I felt the power to laugh; I wanted to share it. So I started collecting stories from other cancer patients who had managed to find something -- anything -- to laugh about -- from wigs set on fire to friends who apologize when they order a chicken breast for dinner.

Mixed in with the fears and tears, the laughs are no surprise to anyone who's had cancer -- and whose life hasn't been touched by it?

That's why I think it's important to see cancer humor emerge into the mainstream -- and "50/50" is a terrific example. It's got all those things I learned -- it's black, truth, power -- and it's funny.

And this same message applies way beyond cancer. When you face any challenge or something that scares you -- if you discover something you can manage to laugh about, more power to you.

 

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