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Breast Cancer? Keep Laughing.

Jill Hirsch shares how she laughs through her breast cancer journey

In my first post, Laughing at My Cancer, I talked about my use of a humor as a coping mechanism when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s one thing to maintain a sense of humor while the disease is still an abstract concept, but what about when all the gears start moving? The beauty of using humor is that once you look at things from that vantage point, you can’t stop. And if you commit yourself, as I did, to coming back with funny anecdotes for your family and friends, you even start looking for the humor because you don’t want to disappoint.

As soon as I was diagnosed, seeing specialists and undergoing medical testing became my full-time job. Day in and day out, a different nurse would escort me to a treatment room and tell me to put on a gown while whispering “Open in the front” as if that was our little secret.

Gowns ranged from extra-small tops that didn’t begin to wrap over my breasts to little capes covered in kittens or puppies or unicorns majestically leaping over rainbows. If I wasn’t looking at everything through funny-vision, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind that I would have to possess some very impressive super powers if I was going to leap off a tall building in a unicorn cape. Are these the profound insights I was supposed to be having as I pondered my own mortality? I mean, I wasn’t even on painkillers yet!

The PET scan was a little tough because I had to drink 36 ounces of barium on an empty stomach and then wait for the dye they injected to spread through my body. I was holding my own until the nurse said that it was very important that I sit quietly for an hour. Just as I went to clutch my phone she snagged it. While doing my best to sit quietly in the dark, it hit me that this is the kind of traumatic thing cancer patients go through but never talk about.

My all-time, hands-down favorite test ever was the breast MRI. I spied the little narrow board I would be lying on, and it had two big holes cut out of it. Wow, maybe I could bring my coffee in with me if they had such nice cup holders. But when the nurse told me to lay on my stomach, the purpose of the holes became all too clear. I reluctantly set aside my half-caff skinny mocha latte.

I was relatively composed when I dropped each of my breasts through a hole. But when the nurse bent down under the table and started pushing my breasts this way and that to position them, there was only one thing to do. I repeatedly gave my best city girl mooooo. By all accounts from the cast of thousands in the room and behind the glass, I made their day. Frankly, I didn’t think I was all that original. How could you not moo in that situation? It takes all kinds, I guess.

How is laughter a medicine in your life? Tell us in the comments section below.

About the Author:

Jill Foer Hirsch is a breast cancer survivor, writer and humorist. While battling breast cancer in 2010, she documented her experience on CaringBridge, and in addition to family and friends she heard from breast cancer survivors, cancer patients, and those whose lives had been touched by cancer that they found her unique sense of humor and positive outlook inspirational. Hoping to encourage and support a wider audience, Jill adapted the journal into a book, When Good Boobs Turn Bad: A Mammoir. Learn more at www.jillfoerhirsch.com

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13 Replies

  • By Tonya Hand

    All of that is so true. I didn’t think to moo. I was afraid if I moved if get a mastectomy right there!

  • By Jennifer Leean

    Oh Jill, you are my kind of breast cancer survivor! I was recently diagnosed and just started my chemo treatment. I too have used humor as a way of coping with this overwhelming journey. I was laughing at your experience with the breast MRI. I think my words to the technicians was, “you got to be f***ing kidding me!” Then when one of male techs was “adjusting” my boob in one of the boob-baskets as I called them, I told him he was for first man to touch
    my boob like that other than my husband. He really can turn a lovely shade of red! I sang songs in time to all the banging of the MRI and ended up with a rhythmic chant of “I Don’t Want This!”
    I’ve named my boobs (one real, one faux), nicknamed my husband, and tried to insert humor everywhere I can successfully. So far it has helped me cope and keep a positive outlook. I fact, my family has authored my journey as the “F**k Cancer” journey. Thank you Jill for your humor – I feel we have some sort of kinship in that arena.

  • By Jill Foer Hirsch

    Thanks for the nice comments ladies! Keeping you in my thoughts and wishing you both a speedy recovery!

  • By Kim Wooten

    Hi Jill! Loved this post!! It was like reliving my experience! I was just diagnosed May 27, 2014. Stage 3 Ductal Carcinoma, triple negative. I got my diagnosis a week after delivering my first child.. Needless to say, I was somewhat sleep deprived for my testing, so I welcomed the idea of “sitting quietly” for an hour! Haha! However, I’ve never been sick or in the hospital at all prior to my pregnancy, so all of this testing was foreign to me. Before my MRI, the technician offered Xanax to relax me during the test. I laughed and told him I was tired enough that I wouldn’t need anything to make me relax.. I plan to sleep! YEAH RIGHT!! No one told me that thing was going to be blowing horns in my ears!!!! I was not a happy camper! But I laughed at the fact that I thought I was going to sleep.. That guy probably thought I was crazy! But the PET scan, mine was actually very enjoyable. I felt like I was in some sort of spa. HAHA! Anyway, congratulations on being cancer free!! I hope to say those words really soon! Feel free to follow my journey! Have a wonderful day!

  • By Lisa Vinocur

    Dear Jill, I too was diagnosed recently with breast cancer and am currently undergoing pre-operative chemo. I’m supposed to have my 3rd of 8 tomorrow. I say supposed to because I was diagnosed two days ago with shingles. I have been uncomfortable and walking around with it for almost two weeks since it was apparently difficult to diagnose. My response is I get two for the price of one! Love your humor, will look for your book:)

  • By Patsy Farr

    Jill you have a beautiful smile and testimony. God Bless You! Patsy Farr (my husband was just diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma Stage III) Your humor has inspired me to look for humor in our lives now.

  • By Lisa

    Yes! Can you train the docs to have more humor too? The surgeon didn’t laugh at all when I asked him if he could tattoo an eyeball instead of a nipple so I could yell at men “hey, look at my EYES.” I did though. I’m going to check out your book this instant.

  • By Gerri

    Best laugh I have had in days since being diagnosed last week with triple negative breast cancer!

  • By Joseph M. Newcomer

    My partner and I always said “A sense of humor will get you through anything”. Mostly, it had. But when she was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, and spent the next thirteen months trying to recover, I amended the saying to, “A sense of humor, and some *really good* psychoactive drugs, will get you through anything”. I spent much of that year on antidepressants of various sorts, and anti-anxiety drugs. But I kept doing cartoons for her, and that would make her smile. You can read these at http://www.flounder.com/graycat.htm, and in particular, those labeled “Cat surgery” are much of the chronicle of that year. She died on July 27, 2012, and her burial spot has a cartoon as a marker. It is printed in enamel powder on a copper plate, and then baked into it. And my sense of humor still functions, even though I can no longer make her laugh. Check out our blog at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/bernadettecallery.

  • By N...

    How cheering! My husband asked me how many lumps? One lump or two? You want whipped cream with that? I’ll definitely keep my cheer on. Do you have some suggestions for funny movies, stories, silly songs?

  • By Donna Adams

    lol. I too was amazed by the MRI because I though I would be lying on my back. I looked and said…OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…my boobs go through THERE!!!!! I then had to go back to work…and HAD to ell everyone about it.

  • By Restaurant Bristol CT

    The guy came across the right down breakfast bristol ct when she are forced to scream that they have me at a smile man. This poem place are everything for which they reads a lot above their world. You can make nice updates. Thanks so much!

    breakfastbristolct.blogspot.com

  • By KD

    Jill, I too approach my cancer with humor. It was the only way for me to cope. My chemo was “future juice”, my new petite, perky breasts are “the twins” because they cost more than giving birth to twins! When my hair started to grow back it was “baby duck fur” now I’m up to “puppy fur”. My friends can’t keep their hands off my head! You’d think I was a good luck troll! And yes you can get your oncologist and surgeon to see humor in it too. I push it as hard as I can to get them to crack a smile. As for nipples, I’m getting rose tattoos.

    Seriously, there are so many silver linings to the cancer cloud, friends came out of the woodwork, after surgery I didn’t have to cook or clean for 6 weeks, smaller boobies, lost 30 much needed pounds, my hair is growing in thicker and curly!, I live every day like it’s a gift and made for having fun. Little stuff is just that. I don’t waste my worry on things I can’t change and charge forward on the things I can. Bless you and everyone else dealing with cancer.

    I take selfies of my hair starting with the Mohawk I got the day I shaved my head because hair was falling out in clumps. I got a “glamor shot” with my dog when I had 3/4 of an inch of hair. It’s not a battle for me, it’s a journey and I want to document it.

    My dog and I went to therapy-dog training school and we now visit nursing homes, hospices and retirement homes. Sometimes giving is a great way to forget about your own problems. Can’t wait to read your book, Jill.