Monday, October 17, 2011

Laughing in Cancer's Face

I like to laugh and even more I like to make other people laugh. I was voted 'funniest female' in our graduating year of high school and I take pride in that (in fact, I think I had it on my resume for a while [I'm not even joking]). Any time I have faced something hard in life, I usually turn to humour. Yes, I do use it sometimes as a defense mechanism and to be honest, I think the reason I started to use humour was because of my weight. I wanted people to describe me as the 'funny girl' instead of the 'fat girl'.

In the beginning of my 'journey' (can someone come up with a different word than 'journey', I am tired of using it), humour would be my first reaction after the tears. After I found out I needed a 2nd surgery (that ended up being cancelled thanks to current cancer research) my facebook status was something along the lines of "Touché cancer, well played. Surgery #2 is May 12" or something like that. Did others find that funny? I don't think so. But it helped me deliver shitty news a-la-Katie and made me feel like I was being myself. I just never let cancer change who I was.

I got an e-mail a few days ago from a friend's mom who had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago and she said 'the kids tell me that you have been really positive during this whole thing, good for you.' I was happy to hear that others saw me as being positive and I think I have humour to thank for that. I have used jokes to help me cope with cancer. I never make fun of others, only myself and my situation but I think it makes people feel comfortable in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. So many people don't know what to say, so when I'm still myself and make some crack about dressing up like Uncle Fester this year for Halloween or having to draw on eyebrows in order to see any expression on my face, it puts every one at ease (including me). I feel like saying, "See, I'm still me, I'm just bald and down a breast."

I remember a friend of mine saying that after you have a baby and you're still recovering in the hospital, you get used to people coming into your room and checking out your business' to ensure you're healing alright. That's the way I felt, showing my boobs started feeling the same as showing someone my elbow or foot; it's just another body part. After surgery, every doctor that I saw wanted to do a quick exam of the new ladies (or should I say lady?). Housekeeping would come into the room to change the garbage and they'd get a free show; I was showing them to everyone assuming that they wanted/needed to see them.

After chemo #5, I ended up in Emerg. because of a fever that wouldn't stop climbing. I put the gown on so that it would open at the front. The nurse came in and said "You have that on backwards", I said "You don't want to see my boobs?" in an almost disappointed way. She said "You're here for a fever, we don't need to see your breasts". I took it off and put the opening at the back.

At my niece's 4th birthday dinner, we were all sitting around the table and she randomly said, "Uncle Keith's a boy." and I said, "No, Uncle Keith's a girl." She said, "Well, he's got a boy hair cut." She had me there. In trying to prepare them for me losing my hair, I said "Auntie Katie is going to cut her hair like Uncle Keith really soon." Now, my sister-in-law's mother (my niece and nephew's grandma) had been diagnosed within a year before me, had chemo and radiation, so these kids were not new to the whole breast cancer thing. My 6 year old nephew pipes up about my 'new hair cut' and says "No, it's going to fall out." All 6 of us adults just burst into laughter. Is my hair falling out funny? No. But having a 6 year old tell it how it is was priceless.

I can list endless hardships that I've had to deal with in the past six months; the numbness of the initial diagnosis, the loss of a breast, chemo, the weight gain, the procedures, the psychological mind games, etc. but I still have a smile on my face every day and I have humour to thank for that. I was told last week that I should go on the road with my 'shtick' but I don't know how funny people think it would be. As I said, those around me can laugh because they know me and know that I like being the funny one, I wouldn't be me if I didn't crack a joke about having explosive diarrhea during chemo. I make jokes about having one breast all the time; is a mastectomy funny? Absolutely not, not even one bit but I almost feel like by laughing at it, cancer has lost and I have won. Even taking my breast can't keep me from being me. Cancer may have mutilated my body but nothing can touch my spirit.

I used to use 'the cancer card' to get out of doing house work etc. but that got old fast. I saw it as a way to benefit from a shitty situation; if I have to deal with this garbage disease then I should be able to get out of making dinner every once in a while. If I try it now Keith reminds me that I am now cancer-free so the 'cancer card' is no longer accepted.

I've said it so many times; if 1in 3 people are going to have some form of cancer in their lives and we continue to be so awkward about it, how is anyone going to learn about it. Maybe using humour could help teach people a few things. I'm trying to make a point that I had cancer and it can't stop me from being who I am. But, I want to make a few things clear. First, I have found humour has made MY situation easier to deal with. If I had a different form of cancer or had a different prognosis, I have no idea how I would react to it. I would hope I would still be able to laugh at myself but I have no idea how I would react. At the same time, a year ago, I wouldn't have thought that I would be able to laugh during my current diagnosis, so you never know.

The way I look at it is, being diagnosed with cancer has just provided me with more material. Comedian, I am not but I think humour makes people feel comfortable and I think it makes me feel comfortable so I have used it in the past six months to help cope with my diagnosis. That's not to say that there haven't been tears or times of sadness but for me, if I have to go down this shitty road known as breast cancer, why not try to laugh the majority of the time?

It's all the way you approach life, right? When someone says "You're so young to have had breast cancer" I just tell them that I'm an overachiever; I've accomplished what very few other women in their 20s are able to achieve...


  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! We must be twins separated at birth (minus the several year difference). But to that, I say laugh your a$$ off! Poke fun of cancer! Have a laugh-off with it! It's THE best medicine. And for your gown opening in the front, it made me think, are they supposed to open in the back? Maybe we've been breast cancer patients for too long now, but that just seems wrong (and creepy). So show your stuff Katie!
    xo Dee Anne

  2. Thanks Dee Anne,

    Cancer's not funny but I sure do like laughing better than crying and so cracking a joke about what we've been through is almost a relief.

    Hope all is well,