Take My Cancer - Please!
I am a Certified Humor Professional, following three years of study with the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH). The motto of AATH is “Humor Helps.” Not Humor Cures, Humor Solves, or Humor Saves, but Humor Helps.
Over the last three years, I’ve lost a son to drugs (2018), left a career in engineering (2019), and as if 2020 wasn’t 2020 enough, was diagnosed with prostate cancer just in time for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (2020). I assure you, humor helps. Humor helps with all kinds of health, including mental health.
How humor helps
There are a lot of myths about mental health and cancer, so a few more from me couldn’t hurt. What I learned about mental health I learned in the streets, on the job, and from webinars. Some people think I’m mentally healthy because I’ve gone through some [technical term deleted] and am still functional. These people probably shouldn’t be allowed to vote, but this is America. Allow me to share how humor is helping me today.
Humor reframes our circumstances. It allows us to see connections and contradictions we hadn’t recognized before. It allows us to enjoy the unenjoyable and bear the unbearable. Proverbs 17:22 says a merry heart does good like a medicine. Will you try the prescription?
Using laughter as a response
When life gives us problems, things get serious. What’s funny about cancer? Nothing. What’s funny about how we and our loved ones cope with cancer? You’d be amazed. Laughter is a response to incongruity. Example: A urologist spends a lot of time and money learning how to put their finger in our rectums. They could have become psychiatrists and gotten rich just talking to people, but they took the road less travelled. Only Michael Jackson ever earned more money for wearing just one glove.
Our cancer diagnosis disrupts our plans and our thoughts. Let this disruption allow you to see things through a humor lens. You’ll laugh more. The act of laughing can reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. Think of humor as the ultimate chemistry set.1
Your style of humor is unique: some create (writers and cartoonists), some perform (actors and comics), and some collect (the neighbor with a complete DVD collection of "The Muppets"). Only a very few have absolutely no appreciation of humor. Too often, these turn out to be our bosses, or the officer who pulled us over for speeding. But even those experiences can result in humor, as well as appearances in Traffic Court.
Mental health is a team sport
I took a class in Mental Health First Aid, so now I’m an expert. Well, at least I have a certificate and an inkling of how complex the topic is. Mental health issues can be a result of medical, psychological, social, or spiritual issues. Depression is a symptom of many problems, for example. It can also be a product of some attempted solutions. It’s a lot to sort through.
Professional athletes use coaches, trainers, and teammates for maximum performance. One person may hold up the MVP trophy, but there’s an army of helpers holding them up all season long. We often meet a “Self-Made Man” that might have benefited from watching a few YouTube videos on carpentry and plumbing, if you get my drift. Get someone to help you assess the real causes of a problem. Talk with people who have your interests at heart. It will help you help others.
It's not always about happiness
Mental health does not mean having only one emotion. Somewhere along the line we confused happiness and health. We spell “mental” with the same letters as “lament.” It is healthy to grieve. It is healthy to cry. Sometimes we can’t really laugh until we really cry. Okay, that’s my sob story.
If someone smiles all the time, they may need drug testing. If they are logical and stoic about everything, they could be Vulcans, or just over-medicated. We were built to experience a range of emotions, and to go through peaks and valleys.
My favorite styles of humor are stand-up and improv. In 2020 and 2021, I wrote a joke a day to promote Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and posted them on Facebook and Twitter. I compiled those jokes and performed them in open mic sessions. One goal of mine is to use these jokes as a professional speaker. I find audiences don’t laugh at cancer, but they can laugh at the situations cancer puts us in.
In a way, prostate cancer is a wonderful improv partner. It teaches you to face unexpected situations and to respond productively – the ultimate “Yes, and” exercise. Through AATH, and the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN), I have met people using improv to help patients, family, and caregivers. Another goal I have is to develop workshops specifically for the prostate cancer community.
Well, I need to write my next set of jokes for 2022…how about, “So a funny thing happened on the way out of my diagnosis…”
Humor helps. I would love to show you how.
What was the most difficult part of your diagnosis?