I remember a Seinfeld episode where his comedy act bombs because he tried to make a joke about cancer and someone in the audience yells out, "I have cancer". Certain types of humor remain off limits, but only to certain groups. Blacks can make fun of blacks and whites, but whites cannot make fun of blacks. You can make jokes about dumb people, but not on intelligence, well you can if you are sarcastic enough. Like when Bill Murray in "What about Bob? referring to Richard Dreyfus, his psychiatrist, remarks, "We cannot comprehend him, he is so far above us we are like ropes on the Goodyear blimp."
It seems that you can use humor to apply to the group to which you belong. Hence, cancer patients often will use humor to lighten the gravity of their condition.
Yesterday, I was sitting in the Roseville Oncology infusion center. My magnesium was being replaced as my Prograf strips me of my magnesium and I can't keep up with pills alone. I was also getting my 1st dose of Velcade to treat the Amyloidosis, since I can no longer take Revlimid. The woman sitting to my left looked like she had cancer, which is a fair assumption in the cancer center. She was bald and her head was covered with the scarf often used by women in this condition. She was talking with her friend (the chairs are very close together) and she mentioned that she would be attending a new ward. I got this big grin. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) refer to congregations as wards. She saw my smile and said. Are you LDS? The conversation ensued, which it always does, to search for common acquaintances. In our church we are connected not my 6 degrees of separation, but rather, more like 3 degrees of separation.
She told me that she had metastatic ovarian cancer that had metastasized to he peritoneal cavity and had caused bowel obstruction. She was supposed to die already, but the GynOncology surgeons removed the obstructing tumors and the chemotherapy shrunk the rest. She feels very blest.
I made the comment that Kaiser is the best place in the country to get medical care; (yes I am biased, but it is why I work here.) Now it was the turn for the woman on my right to interject. Her husband was in the chair next to me receiving therapy and she recounted his story and how she felt my statement wasn't just hyperbole. However, once she found out I was a Urologist, the consult began. The man was paralyzed from an infection of the spine and his bladder didn't work, so he was taught to catheterize himself 3 times a day. She asked if he should be seen by a Urologist. To which I responded, "You're seeing one now." I asked the usual questions, got his medical record number and told her that I would arrange follow up for him to have bladder pressure studies in our clinic and to see me in February.
It amazing what you can experience when you are a captive audience in a transfusion clinic.
So why is this funny? The woman to my left with cancer put a video on YouTube of her dancing in her glorious baldness, like the guy from the Six-Flags commercial entitled "Fun with Chemo"
Check it out. I find that humor is essential to coping with these types of situations, although timing and appropriateness are key. Being able to laugh at ourselves is a better pain reliever than any pill and with fewer side effects. Just don't make it too funny, or you'll get the response, "You're killing me" or "I just bust a gut" or "That was dead on" or "I just died laughing" or, you get the point.