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Breast Cancer: Laughing ’Til It Hurts

Jill Hirsch shares how she laughs through her breast cancer journey

As I discussed in my first two posts, I successfully used humor to make it through my breast cancer diagnosis and a battery of tests and doctors. But surgery and treatment are where the rubber meets the road.

Until I had my bilateral mastectomy, I had never once been a hospital patient or even had so much as a stitch. I think that explains the confusion at the admissions desk. While I was certain I had reserved a king bed with an ocean view, the hospital kept insisting that all they had was a double with an alley view. Maybe cancer wasn’t going to be so funny after all. Fortunately, the hospital upgraded me to the Princess Suite with a great view and full amenities. Once I was comfy, off to surgery I went.

When I woke up from surgery, my original breasts were sitting in a jar somewhere, and in their place I had two little bumps where the plastic surgeon had put expanders to keep the skin around the breast stretched until I finished my treatment and had reconstruction surgery. A month or so later I was minding my own business when out of nowhere the expander on the right migrated from my chest to my side.

On the bright side I had a wealth of new comedy material, and Side Boob Situation is a great name for a band. And sure, I’d heard stories about young body-conscious women electing side boobs, but it just isn’t my style. Let the young people experiment with tattoos and piercings and side boobs; I’ll take traditional chest boobs, thank you very much. Unfortunately, I had to sport a side boob for 7 months as I made my way through chemo treatment.

As my treatment progressed, I wanted to focus on the things that really matter in life. For example, there was the question of continuously milking sympathy from family and friends. I didn’t want them to lose interest! That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks: surely material goods would make me feel better. People receive gifts for weddings and babies–was breast cancer not a significant life event? That’s when I started my Breast Cancer Registry at Tiffany.I didn’t go nuts or anything, just a couple of tennis bracelets, a sapphire and diamond ring, a few pendants and a lovely pair of pearl earrings. It doesn’t cure cancer but it sure makes a girl look better while she’s battling her way through it.

Just as I was completing my gift registry, I realized my second chemo treatment was scheduled for April Fool’s Day. Yes! Is there a better day all year to be hanging out in a hospital? I think not. Nothing got out of hand or anything; just one harmless saline squirt war. Sadly, I went down under friendly fire. I think the nurses had an unfair advantage though, since they didn’t have to drag IV poles around with them during battle. But hey, I’m not one to whine.

It’s true that my treatment was difficult and painful at times, but I continued to use laughter as the best medicine. Don’t knock it until you try it!

Ever helped someone you love see the humor in a tough situation? Share your experience 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 Melinda Spencer

    Hi Jill…I accidentally ran across your blog and just read the most recent. I need to be in bed, but somehow my body doesn’t know that! I want to let you know that I appreciated what you said about using humor to cope with difficult situations, i.e. breast cancer. I often wonder if my humor is a cover-up for the deeper despair, pain, fear. Yet, It comes so naturally to me. Thanks for giving me permission to laugh at this difficult event.

  • By Elizabeth

    Thank you Jill!! I just came across this post and love it. I am nearing the end of my breast cancer treatment-just reconstruction left-and I use humor to cope as well. Thank you!

  • By Michelle

    I too was just diagnosed with breast cancer. I totally agree with your approach and although I appreciate the sympathy I’d much prefer if you’d laugh along with me.

    My doctor, when convincing me to have lumpectomy told me he could pull a ping pong ball out of my breast and I’d never notice the difference. I quipped right back, “are you sure doc, you haven’t seen what you have to work with yet, I’m not exactly boob-a-licous!”

    We all laughed and somehow, in that moment, it made it okay.

    I too have requested gems, I’m thinking 8mm diamond earrings, representing the tumor that is being removed. Why not?

  • By Dayle Duffy-Cavaliere

    Hi there, Indeed you have made me laugh at a situation I find quite gruesome and barbaric.This May I was planning a celebration for my 5th year Breast Cancer survival and ending my medication. I had complained of all over pain to my oncologist for a year but she sent me off to an RA doctor without speaking or examining me.
    May 28th the results of an MRI on my spine ( it had gotten worse and mimicked a ruptured Disc) came back showing “pervasive cancer throughout my skeleton”. Additional scans showed it in my lungs and pancreas. She had allowed a year go by as it took over my body. The pain has been excruciating and I have had radiation to try and stop it going into my spinal column. Next week we start 15 sessions on my pelvis/hips. I truly appreciate your giving permission to laugh in the face of this monster and show it no respect.
    I have been able to be silly by announcing I am going in for another pint of blood ( I vant to bite your Neck”) so watch out. I always had a good sense of humor and at times i can be macabre with some of my cracks.
    Another benefit of our cracking on our condition is that it gives caregivers and loved ones a chance to relieve the worry and stress. I love the surprised and shocked looks when I start crackin; on the cancer. We are giving them permission to lighten up and enjoy the moment. God bless our caretakers. I was my sister’s for 40 years and truly know the strain. She passed 2 days before my MRI results came back.
    Don’t let this story worry you. I share it as information that all women should realize. If we catch any that comes back early we have many years to enjoy. I wish you the best.

  • By Carlene Barnard

    Awesome Jill, you made me laugh. My best friend was just diagnosed and I was not taking it well, however I was and still am remaining positive. It felt good to release a little of the sadness and remember it is ok to laugh through this journey. Carlene

  • By Dave Parente on behalf of my wife Hope

    September 18, 2012 , Dave took me in to an imaging center @ 7:45 a.m., for an appt my primary care physician, Dr. __, had scheduled for me the preceding day when I had visited his office for severe upper right quadrant pain. Dave and I thought it was gall stones. I threw my back out 2 weeks before & had been a little tired (but what mother isn’t? Especially with a bad back, ugh! Is there nothing worse!??) it seemed to take along time getting all the ultrasound pics taken. I was annoyed that I would probably have to have surgery to remove my gall bladder, if it was causing all this pain, ugh! Worse than contractions with no meds & those were pretty intense, as many of you can attest! Stupid gall, messing up my nice time here in SC.We went home and no less than 30 min later got a call from Dr. __office. “Hello, Mrs. Parente (sweet, soft, southern accent gently cajoling): Why, could you & your husband come in to speak with the doctor today?” Me: “Sure, when, now? (brain now alerted, why in person, that doesn’t seem good…) Nurse:”Yes, just come in, I’ll watch the girls for you while you’all talk.” Hang-up. Uh-oh. Dave and look at each other funny. I grab the keys, he picks up our 1 year old daughter. I get our 4 year old daughter’s shoes….Next, @ the _Family Practice, 10 min. away in town? Reminds me a lot of going ‘into town’ (New Bloomfield), as I did as a child. We check -in, wait only 2 min., and are ushered right into Dr. _office. Wow VIP treatment. Indi goes happily with the nurse to get a muffin.Dave & I get a concerned but kind look from Dr. _as he greets us and sits down in front of me.”Well, we got the radiologist’s report back, and, they are not too happy about some masses we found on your liver.” We all seriously stare at one another without speaking for a moment. I am still putting put out that goofy, funny persona, only muffled now as to acknowledge the obvious reality of the situation. So I just sit, smiling, a little encouraging smile because I feel so bad for this doctor, who’s obviously shaken.After arming us with orders for additional scans—mammogram & ct scan —-to see if we could find the source. Dr. _suspected my left breast since Mae had refused to nurse it for the last month.As we leave the parking lot, I read the big banner announcing,”Dr. __now accepting new patients” & start to giggle. Sick. I have a morose sense of humor. Poor guy, that’s how I got in that afternoon, he’s the new guy. Nice work, Hope. Dave asks”What?” like, what could be funny? I say aloud what my brain read to me, “Dr. __, now accepting dying patients” I know NOT funny, but like i said I am not right. Ask anybody. Besides, I didn’t even know WHAT to think at that point, just seemed like good comic relief…..

  • By Robyn

    Talk about humor, Jill… I have butt cancer! Like LITERALLY?… BUTT cancer! My ass is part Charlie’s Angel (same cancer as Farrah). And YES I know I overuse the “…”, but I can’t help it, it’s my favorite punctuation. Anyway, today in the parking lot of the treatment center, I saw a car with the license plate “BUTWIN”… I’ve decided to ignore the missing “T” and take it as a sign that in the end, my BUTT will WIN! (I also wear cow socks to treatment… black and white spotted with a little cow head on the front and a little tail on the back that moves when I walk… they were a gift and they bring joy and giggles to many people every day!) So humor? YEAH! I totally get it! <3 :-D

  • By Jill Foer Hirsch

    Thanks to all of you for sharing your stories, your encouragement, and making me laugh out loud. I am so touched by all of you and wish you the very best!

    P.S. Never too late to send expensive gifts to show your gratitude for my enormous talent

  • By Alisa Wilson

    Hi Jill,

    Thank you for writing a blog. I joined our sisterhood journey on September 27, 2012.
    So true, that being positive and being around positively was so key. I have a lot of funny stories as well. I expect in the near future, I will print it out so I can read it again someday.

    Thank you again for sharing …

    I wrote a CaringBridge blog so people could follow me through my journey.

  • By Sally Pagryzinski

    laughter and a positive attitude have gotten me to where I am today I believe. I have been battling stage 4 breast cancer primary/secondary bone cancer most recently updated back in march to the cells spreading to the liver, spleen, lungs, lymph nodes but I am holding my own . Switched my cares to UW in madison Carbone Cancer Center since I had a bad reaction to whatever the oncologist was giving me that was overlooked. So pasted a smile on my face and off to Madison we went–hi ho–met the most wonderful lady Oncologist by the name of Dr. Pipp-Dahm. So far so good–God directed me to her somehow with my oldest daughter’s help. I too prefer someone to laugh with me or pick me up or be ready for me to pick them and say “come on let’s rock” versus sympathy. It has been a journey and feel blessed that I have survived 6 years so far. Miraculous is what dr. pipp calls me in addition to me attending college and going for my associates degree in adminst. professional assistant, office assistant and early childhood education all the while holding my own on the dean’s list. I Just want to win this battle.

  • By Donna Adams

    humor (plus Jesus) is the way I am dealing. I have dubbed her “Franken-boobie.” I had my mastectomy 8/25/14. And I was diagnosed June 13th– Friday the 13th.

  • By Shannon McLain

    We must be related!!! LOL I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and I’m scheduled to have my mastectomy on Oct. 3rd. I have jokes also about my cancer with my family and friends, I have told my brother he will have to stay to the left of me so I will still have a boob on that side. You sound like an amazing woman I would live to talk with more, My journey is just beginning and I’m sure I will need some advice and a laugh or two.

  • By Darlene B.

    Jill, You are special…… and GOD bless you deeply!!!!