Only those who have lived with and nursed a loved one through cancer can identify and understand the daily, hourly and minute by minute care that is required and involved. When that loved one is fighting to try any means to prolong life, the regimen becomes intense and stressful.
Facing specialists and medical staff, the gamut of tests with machines, the umpteen hospital visits, the taking of blood samples, the introduction of new drugs and the inevitable side-effects of those drugs, and all within the confines of sterile rooms and corridors, day in and day out, eventually take their toll. And this is for both the patient and the supportive loved one, or loved ones.
Sitting in the Specialist’s office discussing the latest results or exploring new avenues, drugs or treatments becomes par for the course. And this can and usually takes months and years.
For the healthy, supportive partner, their life is on hold while they readily journey with the loved one through the treatment required. Patient and partner almost forget what it’s like to experience daily life and to even see and appreciate a sunrise or sunset; to enjoy the simple pleasure of walking barefoot on the grass or at the beach; to watch and escape life through a movie or play; to interact with a live band and enjoy music; to come home to a delicious baked dinner or a special, home-cooked dessert; to take a trip interstate or even to a suburban restaurant and most of all, the luxury of laughing out loud with family and friends.
Cancer, as we all know, can be grim and as the fight continues over the course of time, it sucks the life out of both sufferer and carer.
When Celia* was first diagnosed with cancer, there was the usual shock, disbelief and fear. But ‘hope’ was alive and kicking! And every little, positive outcome was greeted with elation and more hope. While setbacks are par for the course, newer, stronger or variant of the drugs on offer, still provide ‘hope.’
So much so that life can still be enjoyed and friends and family informed of the latest moves without too much trepidation. Life continues and the cancer is not quite the indomitable and formidable foe that it is. Not yet!
When the setbacks multiply and the lists of options of drugs or medication start to dwindle, hope steadily declines and life is then a merry-go-round of the aforementioned hospital, specialists, lab and drugs/medication regimen.
When Josh* and Celia* reached this stage, Josh decided he needed to remain cheerful in order to raise Celia’s spirit and keep her positive and focussed on ‘hope.’ He thought about that adage, ‘hope against hope,’ and wondered if he had it in him to draw on the remaining reserves of his dwindling hope.
How does one remain cheerful under the grim reality of cancer and the cheerless atmosphere of the environment? How does one even raise a smile let alone a laugh when all those around are understandably sombre? Josh did not resent the medical world’s ‘seriousness,’ as they needed people of that calibre to research new options; to create the cocktail of drugs and treatments; to consider and attempt other options and to fight the good fight to prolong the cancer patient’s life. No, he wouldn’t want them any other way.
But he certainly needed to keep cheerful for Celia. And how was he going to do that when all he wanted to do was to take her far away and leave behind the grim walls and the reality that had become their daily grind? Did he have any reserves left in him?
Flicking through the Reader’s Digest, he read a few funny anecdotes on the Laughter is the Best Medicine page. He finished that and picked up another and continued to read all the funny stories and soon felt light-hearted. He even took some into Celia to share with her after another blood test.
Armed with a number of videos, amongst them the Month Python series, the English comedies, the Simpsons, Mr Bean and stand-up comedians like Robin Williams, he would settle down to enjoy and more importantly, laugh and laugh, while he spent hours in the waiting room.
Even when the end was near, he was able to console family and friends and to comfort Celia every step of the way.
Despite the grief and his loss, he confessed to his solution of maintaining his equilibrium with the help of comedy and laughter, at Celia’s funeral. To prove his point, he read out a few of his favourite jokes and had the gathered family and friends laughing during the service. He stated that Celia would have wanted them to celebrate her life and remember the vibrant person she was with a light and happy heart.
When Josh gave me permission to write his story, he stipulated that he wanted me to talk about ‘endorphins’ and how they promote joy and health, especially when, ‘things are looking down.’ ‘Humour is a very powerful medicine’ he said.
Science has finally been able to document that laughter, like exercise, sexual orgasm, spice-laden food and love, releases feel-good elements in the brain that are better known as endorphins. Another benefit is that these chemicals, similar to morphine, act like analgesics which help in the relief of pain. Fortunately, unlike morphine, endorphin chemicals do not lead to addiction or dependency.
True or genuine laughter triggers the physical activity of enabling the abdominal muscles to exhaust itself, which in turn activates the endorphin chemicals.
According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter not only relieves stress but it creates physical changes in the body. Laughter increases the intake of oxygen-rich air; excites the heart rate and blood pressure, relaxes the muscles and stimulates circulation. More importantly, it improves your immunity through the release of neuropeptides, which are the agents that assist in fighting illnesses and stress.
Little did Josh know at the time that the Mayo Clinic encourages placing ‘humour’ on your agenda. The clinic promotes keeping, ‘funny movies or comedy albums on hand when you need an added humour boost’.
In keeping his sense of perspective intact with the regular dose of humour, Josh was more readily able to handle the hospital routine and the subsequent grief of losing the love of his life and to be the anchor for their children and extended family.
What do you think about Josh’s step? Is this a commendable action? Feel free to express your opinion.
(C) Wendy Robinson April 2015
We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us … how we can take it, what we can do with it … and what really counts in the end. ~ Joseph Fort Newton
Disclaimer: The photographs used are from the internet and bear no resemblance to those mentioned above. The exceptions are well-known public and entertainment personalities.
*: Pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of those concerned.