Sunday, July 06, 2008

July 6, 2008 - Cancer on $5 a Day

Cancer on $5 a Day* (*chemo not included) is the title of a book by comedian Robert Schimmel (Perseus Books, 2008). So, who makes jokes about cancer? Only someone who has it.

Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh. Especially if you’re a comedian.

The day he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Schimmel made a joke about it. To his doctor. At the Mayo Clinic.

There’s the doctor, probably feeling all nervous about having to deliver such devastating news to yet another patient. He puts on his medical game face. There are two kinds of lymphoma, he tells Schimmel: Hodgkin’s Disease and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He writes the words on a pad of paper, for extra effect. “You have Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” he intones.

“Just my luck,” deadpans Schimmel. “I get the one not named after the guy.”

The doctor is quick on the uptake. “Well, if you can find something funny the moment you get the diagnosis, you’re going to be okay.”

Let’s let Schimmel tell his own story from here:

“Poof. The joke brings a moment of relief. Of hope. The tension in the room escapes. It’s as if we're encased inside a giant balloon, and, pop, I’ve stuck a pin in it and let the air out. All that’s left now are the five of us and Mr. C, the rampaging rhinoceros in the room.

Amazing when you hear that word.



I know that for some people just hearing ‘You’ve got cancer” means they’re dead. Bam. Might as well stop at the mortuary on the way home and pick out the casket. Life over. And the buzzer sounds. Ball game.

And I know that there are other people, loved ones, sitting bedside, who immediately say, ‘Don’t worry, you're not going through this alone.’

Yeah? When they lower me into the ground, are you jumping in, too? I don’t think so. I’m taking this death cruise all by myself. I know that much.

What’s strange, but not surprising, is that when I hear the word, my first reaction, my initial instinct, is to go for the laugh.

It really is. I don’t plan it, don’t think about it. I just go for it. I realize instinctively that even though I’ve just been told I have cancer, I haven’t been told that I’m going to die. And to prove it, I’m going to do the one and only thing that shows that I am very much alive:

I am going to make the audience laugh.

It’s a small house tonight – my mom, my dad, the lump doctor, and my oncologist – but they’ve paid for their tickets (well, it’s co-pay). They’re here for the show and I’m not going to let them down. I’ve still got my sense of humor, my edge. And that means I’m alive!”
(Pp. 14-15)

Schimmel’s first reaction is to go for the laugh. It’s what he does.

So, what was my first reaction to my own NHL diagnosis? I started a blog. A place to reflect on the theological and spiritual meaning of what I’m going through, and bounce it off a biblical text now and again.

That’s because I’m a preacher. It’s what I do.

Schimmel’s doing better now, by the way. His chemo treatments put him in remission. He’s come up with these “simple, yet profound life lessons” as a result of the experience:

“Keep your sense of humor, no matter what.

Create a purpose, a focus, and never take your eyes off it.

Figure out what’s important to you. What’s really important.

Be open. Try anything. You never know.

Love. You need love. Tons of it. A s***load of love.

Sometimes you need to be selfish.

You need support. You’re in this alone, but you can’t fight it alone.

The most precious thing you have is time. Don’t waste it.

You’re only human.

And, finally, once again –
(pp. 185-186)

I suppose each of us cancer survivors reacts to the News (that’s News with a capital “N”) in our own unique way. Our reactions are true to who we are, and to what we spend most of our non-cancer time doing.

There’s no right or wrong way to be a cancer survivor. We are who we are. We choose the path that works for us.

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Or the path chooses us..

You come to a
fork in the road.
Take it!

And make darn sure you're
still alive and functioning well.