At age 25, Zora was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The news wasn't exactly shocking - a strong family history had been a part of the reason Zora'd been so diligent about being screened, key to her early diagnosis. What did shock Zora was how completely Breast Cancer took over her life.
"All of a sudden, everything in my life -every decision, every aspect of my day - was centered around dealing with this cancer. That's all anyone wanted to talk about," Zora said. "My co-workers, my husband, my family, my friends: it was totally overwhelming."
When a well-meaning colleague asked Zora what she could do to help, Zora said it was the last straw. "I just snapped, and said, 'Why don't we go do something fun and not even talk about my cancer at all!'" Much to her surprise, her colleague instantly agreed, and they went to the movies. "We saw We're The Millers and I laughed until I cried."
Coming out of the movies, Zora said, "I felt so good. It was probably the best I'd felt since getting the diagnosis, honestly. Because for that time, I wasn't Zora-who-has-breast-cancer. I was just Zora. And it felt so good!"
Laughter: A Healthy Coping Mechanism That Builds Emotional Resilience
When I heard Zora's story, I couldn't help but nod. It's so similar to the tales I and other humor researchers have been hearing for decades from cancer patients. The experience of laughter provides a much needed respite from the constant stress and pressure that comes with a cancer diagnosis.
Many times, patients report that their very identity had been supplanted by their diagnosis, pigeonholed into what society believes someone coping with cancer looks like. Laughter is a simple, effective way to break out of that pigeonhole and step back into their own authentic identity. This does more for happiness levels and overall mental health levels than any other intervention. Best of all, laughter is free, portable, and side-effect free!
If you believe that it is not just the quantity of our days that matter, but the quality of those days, you'll want to investigate the powerful impact laughter can have on health and well-being. It's amazing how the simplest, most natural way to entertain yourself can change the experience of living with cancer.