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The Benefits of Humor While Battling Cancer

“Hey, Nurse! Can you get me some peanuts and pretzels with this chemo cocktail!”

Humor is a coping mechanism.

Maintaining a good sense of humor can be incredibly healing while undergoing cancer treatment. Laughter allows the good chemicals to release in our brains and helps us cope with the battles of cancer. Being diagnosed with cancer and facing treatment can induce stress and even depression, however bringing laughter into a tough situation or trying to find humor amongst the dark has been proven to release chemicals, such as endorphins, that activate and relieve your stress response.

How does humor affect the body?

Laughter has a surprisingly positive effect on the body.

  • Humor lowers cortisol levels, which reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Laughter increases pain tolerance: if you are unable to laugh, try smiling during a painful moment. It’s likely that the pain you’re feeling will go away or, at the very least, feel more manageable for a moment.
  • Laughter can increase self-esteem and change your mood.
  • Humor therapy can reduce inflammation (as shown by research demonstrating decreased levels of inflammation-causing cytokines).
  • Laughter helps to support optimal heart function.
  • Humor can help boost immunity.

What can I do to laugh more?

Everyone finds humor in different things. One man with cancer found humor in comedic films. Anytime he had chemo or radiation, he would watch movies that made him laugh and feel good and it helped him recover faster and cope with treatment.

Some films & books to get the laughs going:

  • “50/50”- a comedy movie about a man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has the perfect life, until he’s diagnosed with a tumor on his spine. This film doesn’t sugarcoat having cancer but Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, Adam, comedically tries to continue living a normal, life despite having a 50% chance of living.
  • “Funny People”- A comedy starring Adam Sandler, who gets diagnosed with leukemia and decides to dip his toes in stand-up comedy.
  • “It’s Probably Nothing...” – Miki Myers's memoir documenting her experience with Breast Cancer. She writes about the ups and downs of battling cancer with a witty and fresh perspective.
  • “Cancer On $5 A Day”- Robert Schimmel is a rising star in the stand-up comedy world but finds his life crashing down around him when he gets the diagnosis with stage III non-Hodgkin's His comedic side never lingers in his book about his journey battling cancer.

Do a little research into finding what makes you laugh. it could be a funny meme, a knock-knock joke, a comic strip, or your favorite comedy. Trust me, it is sure to make you feel better during this hard time in your life. When you do find that one thing that makes you chuckle, try to notice the changes in how you feel, physically and mentally.

What’s one thing that makes you laugh?

Disclosure: These are recommendations only. If your side effects are affecting you, it is important to talk with members of your healthcare team.


The Healing Benefits of Humor and Laughter - Whole Health Library (va.gov)

The Six Best Cancer Comedies of All Time (Movies) | Review St. Louis (reviewstl.com)

Cancer on Five Dollars a Day* (*chemo not included): How Humor Got Me Through the Toughest Journey of My Life by Robert Schimmel (goodreads.com)



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