I have been known to be able to find the laughter in anything, often at seemingly inappropriate moments.
One of my most cherished memories takes place in Temple for the High Holidays when I was ten years old. Every seat was occupied and my family members were all dressed in our beautiful new clothes. The room was filled with silence, and suddenly my sister, Diane, and I started to laugh. I cannot remember what set us off. My father shot us the glare that screamed “Be quiet!” but the more we tried to stop laughing, the harder we laughed and in our attempt to stay quiet our bodies were shaking.
I love this memory and as I’ve gotten older, I cherish these moments of laughter and joy. All of them.
They say laughter is the best medicine, but my sense of humor was put to the test when my doctor told me I had breast cancer.
After my double mastectomy, Diane came over to help me shower. I sat in a chair in the shower with my surgical bra on, unable to move my arms, while my sister helped me get clean for the first time in days. She was concentrating so hard on not getting my incisions wet as the water drenched her. All of a sudden I burst out laughing, “This is more than any sister should have to do!” She looked down and started to laugh too. She finally finished and got me dried and back into bed while we kept laughing.
I’d always heard that a good attitude really made a difference with recovery from major illnesses. Before I had cancer, I thought this was total crap. However, as I faced each new step in the process, I realized that I had to take some sort of control. I couldn’t let myself drown in self-pity — that’s not me. I am a fairly calm, optimistic person. I’m at my best when I understand what’s happening and know what comes next. Cancer changed all that — I learned to expect the unexpected.
To take control of an uncontrollable situation I laughed. I made fun of everything and got my family and friends in on it.
After my first chemo treatment, I decided that I wanted to shave my hair rather than wait for it to all fall out in chunks. I asked my 17-year-old daughter, Molly, to “re-style” me. Mark, my husband, poured champagne as Molly first cut my hair into a short bob. Then she shaved half my head to make me look like Skrillex – no, I did not know who he was – but Molly cracked up and took pictures. Finally, my hairstylist Tracy shaved my head. Half of me wanted to cry because it was a lot to take in. But the other half of me laughed when Mark told me I had a good shaped head.
I created a bitmoji and it followed my journey through cancer. First, it was bald with no eyebrows. As my hair came back in, I added back the eyebrows and then short white/gray hair. I laughed at my appearance on my bitmoji as much as I did in real life.
When things were not going my way, I invented the cancer card. This was my “get out of jail free” card and it gave me the excuse to do or not do anything I wanted. It was used by my kids (“Sorry teacher, she didn’t do her work because she’s been with me at the doctor, hospital, treatment”). I used it to ask friends to help get groceries, do my laundry and even take me to chemo — no one can say no when the cancer card is used. I will be well soon and then it will be gone — I believe it’s bad karma to invoke the card once I am finished with my treatments and healed. My invention, my rules.
If I felt like crying, I cried. But I got it out and then moved on. If I didn’t let myself feel sad — let it out when I needed to — it would have crashed over me like a wave. I had a real crying breakdown one afternoon with a close friend of mine – tears, runny nose, the works. Later that day, she came back over with a pack of designer tissues. She told me it was ok to cry, but I might as well do it in beautiful tissues. I could not stop laughing.
Don’t get me wrong, I could have done without the surgeries, chemo and radiation (they were no fun). But I think this year was a mix of the good and the bad, and that is life. The difficult times make me appreciate the joy. Through all of the adversity, I have been overwhelmed with my family and friends caring, support and love. We have laughed, cried and even laughed while crying!
I’m not looking for a life of unicorns and rainbows. I just want to stay present and take each day as it comes with laughter.