Sonya Sorich: Laughing at cancer?

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 21, 2012 

Is cancer funny?

The question doesn't leave much room for internal debate. I bet you answered "no" -- justifiably. There's nothing laughable about the physical and emotional toll cancer takes on its patients and their families.

But on the Internet, the answer isn't as clear cut.

One of my recent conversations turned toward "Cancer is funny cause people die," a Facebook page that's attracted many online petitions urging its removal.

Apparently, the page has teetered on the edge of removal in the past. Its official name was recently changed to include a parenthetical preface: "Controversial Humor."

I don't like the page. I don't like that it's written anonymously. I don't like that it doesn't directly address patients and survivors.

But most of all, I don't like that it might make us afraid to laugh.

Amid the controversy surrounding the aforementioned Facebook page, it's easy to forget that humor is a common coping mechanism in the face of tragedy. After all, an offensive Facebook page isn't the first website to link cancer and laughter.

One site displays a prominent headline -- "Cancer is not funny but laughter is the best medicine" -- along with a collection of cancer-related jokes geared toward patients. Its authors note they are not doctors, but are "firm believers in the healing power of laughter."

Then, there's "Cancer is Hilarious," a blog designed to inspire young cancer patients "who refuse to go the way of headscarves and hospital gowns."

Its writer, a cancer survivor, helped create "Terminally Illin'" -- a comic book for young adult cancer survivors. The book is billed as "slightly cynical, slightly irreverent and REALLY hilarious."

Wait. I thought cancer wasn't funny.

It isn't. But we don't have to tiptoe around conversations with anyone who's moved outside a "normal" existence. We sometimes feel guilty for cracking a smile, or introducing topics that aren't on a bland prepared script.

I once visited a day spa with a friend who has cancer. We each completed a form at the front desk that asked us to list allergies and other medical issues. Under "other medical issues," my friend wrote "none."

Obviously, she had countless other medical issues, chief of which was cancer. But when she showed me her answer, I did something I'd been afraid to do for months: I smiled. So did she.

For a few seconds, we beat cancer with giggles. And that was kind of funny.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at 706-571-8516.

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