Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Day The Laughter Died Coping With Prostate Cancer

When I received the news I had prostate cancer, laughter was the furthest thing from my mind. As a Medical Social Worker, I witnessed many people die from cancer. This was before the Hospice Movement and the emphasis on pain control. In those days, powerful pain relieving drugs were withheld from terminally ill patients. The reasoning behind this decision was to prevent a terminally ill patient from becoming addicted to pain killing drugs. There was no way I was going to "laugh my way through cancer."

Three words with vivid images came to my mind after hearing I had prostate cancer. The three words were:
1. Pain
2. Suffering
3. Death

All three of these words brought multiple images of the people I'd known who died from cancer. Each and every one of those images brought waves of terror into my life.The prospect of surviving prostate cancer wasn't something I entertained as a possibility.

I believed I'd been handed a death sentence.  As a Christian, a  familiar Bible verse offered me some immediate comfort.
2 Cor 5:7-8
 For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

I knew in the instant of the death of my body, I'd be with the Lord. My problem was that I wasn't ready to be with the Lord. I wanted to live long enough to walk my daughter down the isle. I wanted to live long enough to become a grandfather. I wanted to live long enough to retire and spend time with my wife traveling together.

After I received the diagnosis of  cancer I was convinced I'd lost all of those opportunities. The only question for me was how many pain free months did I have left  before I'd beg to die from cancer. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. I'd never experienced such fear in my lifetime.

Oddly enough, on the day I was diagnosed I knew I had to break the grip of fear that had over taken me. The only way I could think of to do this was to find a way to laugh at cancer. I went on line in search for prostate cancer jokes. These were my two favorite jokes that brought on hearty laughter:

Doctor: I've got your test results and some bad news. You have cancer and Alzheimer's.
Man: Boy, am I lucky! I was afraid I had cancer!

Doctor: (After performing a digital rectal exam tells his patient) I’ve got bad news for you. I felt a suspicious lump and I am ordering a biopsy.
Patient: I’d like you to repeat the exam using a different finger.
Doctor: Why should I do that?
Patient: Because I’d like a second opinion.

I wish I could say that I effectively used humor throughout my entire journey coping with cancer. I can't. The song American Pie speaks of  "the day the music died" I vividly remember the day when laughter died. I'd been coping with the loss of urinary control and erectile functioning for a few weeks and I'd had enough. I'd been leaking through my diapers on a regular basis. The embarrassment and shame was so great I refused to leave the house or have any visitors. I wanted to be left alone in my misery. I hated my life. I hated cancer. I regretted my decision to have my prostate removed. I came to the conclusion my life was ruined forever. There I was, cured of cancer. I'd received a reprieve from a death sentence, yet  I was sorry to be alive. That was the day my laughter died. Nothing was funny or humorous. I had no desire to laugh or even crack a smile. I hated my life. I regretted my decision to treat prostate cancer.

It was a comic strip that brought laughter back into my life. My wife described it to me. It was a picture of Charley Brown coming to the decision to hate one day at a time. As I heard my wife say that I burst out laughing. That line of reasoning may not sound funny to everyone, but for me it was a stroke of genius, an amazingly healthy perspective.

At the time,  I was projecting my hatred of my life years and decades into the future. Just the idea of learning to hate one day at time was a very humorous challenge to me. It brought both laughter and gratitude back into my life.

I don't know what it will take for you to bring humor into your life as you cope with cancer, but I can heartily recommend a minimum of one good laugh a day. There is someone who has a lot more wisdom, power and authority than me, who agrees on the benefits of laughter:
Prov 17:22
A merry heart does good, like medicine,

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Rick Redner and his wife Brenda are the authors of an awarding winning faith based book written to help men and couples cope with life without a prostate. I Left My Prostate in San Francisco-Where’s Yours? Coping With The Emotional, Relational, Spiritual & Sexual Aspects of Prostate Cancer can  be previewed and purchased at
Amazon.com