I finally saw the movie 50/50, the story of a young man diagnosed with a rare form of cancer who is given a 50/50 chance of surviving. I thought it was great. It was funny and poignant without being hokey or melodramatic.
I have been reflecting upon why I am drawn to humorous approaches to cancer and other serious illnesses. I love the sharp cancer cartoons, the jokes and the ability to see the humorous side of one’s situation. Cancer Made me a Shallower Person: A Story Told in Comics is still, hands down, my favorite book about cancer.
This does not mean I think cancer is funny. It also doesn’t mean that I see humour as a way to “cheer up”. Rather, it seems to me that with humour you can dig a deep hole without saying too much. A well-placed, biting joke says way more than a lecture. A cartoon that captures a particular expression supplemented by a good one-liner says as much as an essay. Humour makes it easier sometimes to go to darker places without fear.
Making jokes about my own experience also reminds people that I am not my disease – I am someone who can experience and express a perspective about my disease.
I just stumbled upon this great article When Pink Ribbons Are No Comfort: On Breast Cancer and Humour
The article discusses the difference between humour and the tyranny of cheerfulness which is sometimes manifested in the ubiquitous pink ribbon.
In this quote the authors capture this difference.
Certainly hopefulness is a very real and necessary aspect of dealing with the hardship of cancer, but patients feel a significant drain when they feel like being positive is a duty. Moreover, such an obligation keeps cancer patients from feeling worried, angry, depressed – all of which are normal human emotions.
Humor lets women acknowledge these feelings and also exert their own sense of control—to laugh at that which threatens. Not always at first, when the diagnosis and chemotherapy strike hard, but over time yes. Laughing showed they were human, a person who was alive, not caught between a deadly disease and forced societal optimism.
So laugh on I say! But don’t necessarily expect me to be in a good mood.