My previous posts have described how mindfulness, physical activity, and a pro-active stance sustained me during my treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. Alongside these strategies – and not to be underestimated – was maintaining my sense of humor.
To be sure, cancer is no laughing matter. Nothing about it is easy, and it’s certainly not funny. That is precisely why I found it essential to retain my sense of humor upon my diagnosis and throughout my treatment.
Doing so became an antidote to the somber reality of what I was facing. It was a quiet form of resistance that kept the cancer at arm’s length. In my mind, humor was a way of saying you may make me sick and may eventually kill me, but I’m still going to enjoy a good (or bad) joke along the way.
In my interactions with doctors, nurses and staff, I routinely used humor to break the ice and lighten the mood. It was not a denial of my situation as much as a way of transcending it, and they seemed to appreciate the respite it provided from the gravity of my condition and the details of my treatment.
In my periodic, written reports to family and friends, I concluded each message with a joke. They weren’t necessarily great jokes. They weren’t necessarily new jokes. Some might even say that I favored quantity over quality. But the process of finding and composing them was a welcome diversion that elevated my spirits even on dark days.
For my readers, I suspect they lightened the impact of my often-dire news and let people know I was not losing hope. And it let them know they could connect with me as the person I’ve always been and not just as a cancer patient.
The standard disclaimer in this series of posts still applies. I have no idea if my reliance on humor had any direct bearing on my successful outcome, but it certainly sustained my spirit over the long haul.
And so, in closing, I would just like to say:
An agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac walks into a bar.
The bartender serves him a drink and says, “Hey pal, you look really tired.”
The guy says, “Tell me about it. I lay awake every night wondering if there really is a Dog.”
Steve Buechler is a recently retired sociology professor and cancer survivor. In 2016, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. He has since become a big advocate of writing stories as a survival strategy in the face of life-threatening illness. His own story is available in “How Steve Became Ralph: A Cancer/Stem Cell Odyssey (with Jokes),” his memoir from Written Dream Publishing.