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Moments of Humor During Sadness

by Olivia ClarkeSurvivor, Breast CancerAugust 19, 2019View more posts from Olivia Clarke

I’m sitting in my oncologist’s waiting room because I pulled the short end of the stick and have a noon appointment.

For you cancer pros reading this you know that you must have either the first or the last appointment of the day and even that last appointment is chancy. What is supposed to be a noon appointment has the chance of being a 2 or 3 p.m. check-up if your doctor gets behind.

I’m sitting there and trying to keep up on my work email — clearly the youngest person waiting. I’m like a walking statistic — 1 in 4 cancer patients in a room will be under age 40. (I made that stat up but you get the visual.) An elderly woman walks up to ask how long the wait will be for her appointment and the man at the front desk says it will be a two- to three-hour wait. She shrugs her shoulders and says that’s fine because she’s got nowhere else to be. Looking around the waiting room I realize that everyone else is very chill about the long-ass wait.

When I witness this, knowing her appointment is before mine, I have two distinct emotions — anger and laughter. At that point I’m not sure which one I will lean into. The anger comes from knowing that this puts my workday very much behind. Laughter because how is this wait even an option and why is no else upset about this situation? In any other profession could you imagine if the deadline was one time and actually it is two hours later? If you drove a train, what if that was your mentality — mass chaos would ensue? Now this is not meant to come down on the medical profession. I tell this story because this is when I stopped and looked outside my situation and saw the weird humor permeating the room. I wondered if other cancer patients experience these strange funny moments.

Was I alone or were others secretly laughing during certain moments of their serious cancer situation?

Is it possible to laugh and still take your disease seriously?

Truth be told I have always marched to my own drummer. But I kind of hoped that there were other unique snowflakes in the world who laughed during the strangest moments in their cancer journeys.

And that is how and why I started Humor Beats Cancer as a place and now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit where those who face cancer in their 20s, 30s and 40s share humorous stories from their journeys. My group of fellow weirdos are all over the world and they laugh as their hair is being shaved off, as they accidentally pee on the floor when they can’t get unhooked from their medical beds, as they make jokes about having one less ball, as they hear acquaintances say the craziest stuff to them about cancer.

I wanted Humor Beats Cancer to be a place where people could step away from the seriousness of cancer and be reminded that they are still alive and not just avoiding death — a place that made them happy, even if just for a moment. Laughing at the length of my wait didn’t change the situation but it provided some needed levity so that I didn’t get in a fight with the front desk.

The bloggers on my site teach me amazing lessons about life and the power of humor as a tool to cope. Those lessons include:

In no way am I advocating for minimizing cancer or the toughness of this disease. In my mind, laughter and humor are tools we can use to cope with this disease. They remind us that cancer cannot take our spirit away with our hair and appetite. Humor helps us move forward and helps us get up in the morning when all we want to do is stay in bed and cry.

Chicago resident Olivia Clarke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and started in 2017 Humor Beats Cancer, a 501(c)(3) global nonprofit organization geared to those who face cancer in their 20s, 30s and 40s. It shares humorous stories from this group’s cancer journeys and sends care packages to those going through cancer treatment. Visit, @humorbeatscancer (Facebook and Instagram) and @humorbeatcancer (Twitter).

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