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Finding Humor in Cancer’s Awkward Moments from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.
Sometimes people just don’t know what to say when someone has been diagnosed with cancer and unexpected side effects may arise from various drugs. Lisa, Thomas, Donna and Diana all share how they’ve navigated these awkward moments and even found the humor in it after a while.
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So, talking about humor too… And this is getting a little bit harder, maybe harder to talk about, but cancer, we all have had or have cancer, gone through cancer journey. Cancer is pretty awkward. And Thomas, I’ll start with you to find out if you’ve ever experienced this, so I did tell a lot of people when I was diagnosed with myeloma because I wanted… Especially my kids who were in middle school and high school, I wanted people to ask me questions, not my kids, they were scared out of their mind, and I was scared too, but I would just really… Matter of fact, a multiple myeloma, it’s a blood cancer and [inaudible]. I know that a lot of people went home because I would do that and went home, looked up multiple myeloma, what does that mean? And it does show the words incurable pop-up, and when I looked it up and when I was diagnosed, the median life expectancy, overall survival, it was four years. I think that’s changing, but it still shows up when you do a Google search, which I tend to do frequently, which means that 50% of the people don’t make it to the four-year mark, so the awkward part of cancer isn’t the cancer itself, or necessarily the mortality, but I notice…
So, I told a lot of people, and since then, twice it’s happened to me where I’ve been out in public, and once at a grocery store and somebody sees me and it’s an acquaintance that knew that when I was diagnosed, I hadn’t seen them in a couple of years, and I see them and we’re looking at each other and they’re kind of looking like Lisa? And of course, I’m super excited to see someone, I’m like, oh my gosh, it’s so great to see you. Hugs, whatever, and they’re like, Oh, Lisa, you look great. But you know, I mean, we know that what’s going through their head and they’re thinking, I thought you might be dead, so… This is awkward. To me, I think that’s funny because it is so awkward, the cancer is not funny, the death issue is not funny, but a couple of times I’ve started laughing and said, I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t say it. But how do you deal with that? Cause it’s kind of funny. How do you deal with that? Cause part of humor is the awkwardness of a situation, how do you… Have you ever had that happen, Thomas where it’s like, I know what you’re thinking, and let’s talk about this, cause it’s kind of funny, but it’s…
How do you work through that? And have you had that happen to you before. Any of you, but we’ll start with Thomas.
Well, well, first I’d like to say is that people don’t know what to say to people that’s diagnosed with cancer first of all. And yes, I have had that. People come to me mostly when I was first diagnosed, and someone asks, are you going to die? And I was like, I don’t know. We’re all going to die, but I don’t know if the myeloma is going to do it. But to fast forward now, I haven’t received those topics lately, I see people all the time because once I have my mask on, they only know me from the beard, so if I have on glasses and the mask, they’re like oh Thomas. So, I was like, who are you? So that’s the only reason that they know me, but I do… I understand exactly what you’re saying, but we have these conversations and they see me, like you guys see me. They seem me all upbeat and laughing, in the gym, #alwayssmiling. And then a lot of them forget that I have cancer, sometimes I forget that I have cancer, you know but I like to utilize that, those time frames when that happens, and people come at me and to forget. But to also think about, hey, I love how you’re doing, I love how you’re handling it, I love that you’re keeping a positive attitude, and I try to do that all the time.
That’s awesome. So do you ever have situations where you laugh about your cancer or is it even… Okay, to make fun of it. You know how some people do. They are… Well, and even Diana, in her book, she talks about some of the, I guess, by-products or side effects of having cancer, she makes fun of those. I think that’s funny and I actually… And a lot of people aren’t ready for that. And that’s okay, and if people aren’t ready to hear some of this, they have to honor that and take care of themselves, and it has to be at the right time to find levity in cancer diagnosis. But Thomas, do you ever laugh about any aspect of your cancer?
I do, because you know I notice what we deal with every day, and I notice some of the negatives that comes with the cancer, I.e. Dexamethasone or any type of steroid, I don’t know what the lymphoma people take for their steroids. I just sit back and laugh at some of the things that happens, and I’ll be like, Okay, this is nothing but Dex, this is nothing but chemo brain, this is nothing but whatever else that goes on, and I find it humorous to not be mad at it, and I will say this. The reason I am the way I am about my diagnosis is because I’ve accepted my diagnosis, and you mentioned that a lot of people don’t want to talk about stuff that they’re dealing with, most of them haven’t accepted that they have the disease, once I accepted I had a disease, I was able to narrate how I handle it. Narrate what happens, and I can accept the stuff that you would deem horrible. I can look at it as humor.
That’s a great point. I think a lot of times, well, especially when a person’s first diagnosed, we’re dealing with a little bit of denial and shock. We’re kind of going through the grief process, you’re losing your life as you once knew it and then you get to point where you accept it and then you can kind of make fun of some of the ridiculous things that we have to go through, so… Diana, any comments about that? Making fun? We know that you do make fun of some of the side effects of cancer because of your book.
It’s true. Humor and laughter are my personal coping mechanisms, and I do believe that that can be the case for a lot of people. Sometimes before people buy my book, they’ll call me or reach out to me and they’ll say, well, this is the diagnosis of my friend, do you think this is appropriate for him or her, and I’ll be honest with them at that time, it might not be the right time for that book. I had a time at one of my book signings where a woman came up to me and kind of read me the riot act, and it’s like… It’s not everybody’s way of coping for things. You know, when I was first diagnosed, I did go into that black hole for about a week, felt sorry for myself laying on the couch, crying in the dark, and then I thought, this is not doing me any good, so that’s when I decided I was going to take a more positive approach and decided that I was going to be forward with humor.
That’s great. And again, you said the same thing that I think is some people are not at the point where finding humor in any part of cancer that’s not where they’re at right then, and definitely be aware of that and acknowledge that that’s okay. There may come a time when somebody is ready for that, and if that is an outlet for them or something that will help them get through with them… Perfect, and that’s great, and there are a lot of resources for that. Donna, how about you? Have you?
You know, it’s interesting, I was trying to think about where I found the humor in cancer, and most of my situations stemmed around my hair to be honest with you. It was very devastating. And odor hair, when you lose your hair, you get your eyelashes, your eyebrows, and feel like you have baby skin on your face, you know you’re a cancer patient, but the funny part for me was that I have straight hair, my siblings have straight hair, my mother has that curly kinky hair. And so, after chemo, your hair starts to grow back after a period of time, and mine came in like pubic hair. I mean it came in like pubic hair, it looks like a chia pet. I told everybody, I just could not believe I had curly hair for the first time in my life, and it was so funny. So, I had to figure out as being a retired physician here, I had to figure out what was happening, cause I’ve never had curly hair before in my life, and I always wanted to have curly hair and I’m calling my mom and I’m like, Mom, you’re not going to believe this. I probably here for the first time in my life, and it’s on my head and it’s not below my waist, and she’s like, oh my God, what’s going on? And I said, Well, the pore size shrinks down, and so it happens is when the pore size shrinks down and the hair is trying to go through the follicle, it’s like a cork screw, and so I had for probably less than six months, curly hair, but I did look like a chia pet, and what I told people, it kind of took the edge off and it was humorous and they were like, Oh yeah, that’s right, they were not so nervous to be around me because now when you decide when your hair grows back or takes it’s a long process to get to this point.
It’s a very long process. And so, most of my situations were around my hair growing back, my wig falling off, or someone hugging me, and my wig was lopsided, and so we made a joke out of it. We tried to make it as funny as possible in the most embarrassing situation as you can imagine, where someone gives you a hug, they really want to embrace you, and then all of a sudden they’re tugging on your wig and you’re lopsided, and so that’s where some of the humor came for me is that the uncomfortable situations with having no hair, growing it back or my beautiful, beautiful wig where people are saying, Oh my God, I didn’t know that after chemo your hair would come back so thick and I’m like, It’s a wig. It was really funny because one of the other survivors that I speak to on a regular basis, she says the same thing, everybody goes, oh my God, your hair is always so beautiful. It’s just beautiful. It’s never out of place. It’s beautiful. And she goes, my god, you guys never get it. It’s a wig, it’s a wig. That’s where a lot of my humor starts with the wig.
And I never wore a wig the whole time it was summer, it was hot, and I’d have chemo beanies, but I found that people were much nicer to me when I was bald, you know, they’d come up and perfect strangers would talk to you, and so I just took advantage of that.
I do have one other cute story like Diana, sometimes I didn’t wear a wig sometimes I wore the sheitel on my head, and so one of my neighbors’ little boys came over to visit and he knew I had cancer cause they tried to explain it to him. So, I opened up the door and he has his underwear on his head like my sheitel scarf type thing and I’m like Oh, that is so nice. Well, I wanted to wear something like, you’re wearing something. Mind you, it’s his underwear. It was the cutest thing.
That’s really cute. That’s awesome. Yeah, I think like what Thomas said for myeloma patients, we don’t typically lose our hair, except during stem cell transplant with one of the chemotherapy drugs used, but definitely the most groans or laughs that I hear is from the use of high dose steroids, the things people do… For me, I started talking like a sailor and was just very out of character, my kids would be, oh my gosh, if we had a swear jar, we could buy a car by the time we’re 10, but they actually older than that when I was diagnosed, but they would always joke, joke with it. It was just part of my sentence, every other word, I just would say something, so that was, I guess, part of my coping and part of my Dexamethasone, or at least that’s what I told my family.
Prednisone could be good though, in short doses, because I’m very productive, I got a lot of stuff done on Prednisone, didn’t sleep for five days, but I was like, woo.
That’s true. I did a lot of my best research, where am I going to go with this, or clinical trials out there, I’d be up late at night looking through my research, and friends of mine would ask me about different things to look up and… Well, if you give me a medical thing, I can just… With the best of it, I can look up on Dr. Google and give all kinds of information, but… Yeah, on Dex, on high-dose steroids. You can get a lot done.
I was just the opposite of you though, I was afraid to look anything up on the internet when my husband had heart failure the year before, I looked up everything, but when it came to me, I just didn’t want to know, I waited to hear from my doctor because my mind would have gone crazy, so I just binged watched Netflix instead.
That’s just as bad.