Find the Healing in Humor

Cancer is no laughing matter, but as Pam Lacko discovered, humor can be healing. Here’s how she kept her spirits up during treatment.

Lori Miller Kase
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Pam Lacko considered herself lucky: After a hysterectomy and six months of chemotherapy, she survived ovarian cancer. Then she learned she carried a gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer. First, she cried. Then she did what she does best: She laughed.

Pam, 52, a computer consultant, drum teacher and mother of two in Simsbury, CT, decided to break the news via a blog she had started to keep loved ones up to date about her condition. After learning her risk for developing breast cancer was 85%, she decided to have a preventive mastectomy. She wrote an entry entitled, “I Have to Get Something Off My Chest.” Then she launched a contest called “Guess How Much My Boobs Weigh?” She enlisted her surgeon’s help by asking if she would weigh the breasts once she removed them. The surgeon played along, and more than 100 of Pam’s blog followers entered the contest. Pam awarded the winner a gift certificate to Victoria’s Secret.

Making light of her cancer battle helped Pam cope. “Medication and treatment heal the body, but humor heals the mind,” she says. Pam turned her blog into a book called Laughing in the Face of Cancer (Antrim House Books), in which she describes how she used humor to get through her illness and treatment. Here are some of her strategies—and how you can learn to laugh in the face of cancer, too:

Look for humor in your journey and share it with others.
Instead of lamenting the loss of her breasts, Pam joked about getting “perky boobs” for her birthday, compliments of breast reconstruction surgery. “I was pleased that people were laughing along with me rather than feeling sorry for me,” she says.

Joke with doctors and nurses.
During an imaging test, when an MRI tech reached up her leg for the tube connected to her port so that he could inject some contrast dye, Pam quipped, “I barely know you.”

Developing a relationship with the medical staff paid off for Pam. During her treatment, she called an “emergency meeting” with the nurses to enlist their help in persuading her doctor to release her from the hospital in time to play in the golf championships at her local club. Pam’s playful relationship with the nurses was evident on her final day of treatment, when they dressed her up in medical garb, sang her a congratulatory song and posed with her for photos.

Find fun in the frightful.
Pam quelled her anxiety about losing her hair by gathering together a few close friends for a playful wig-shopping expedition before the hair loss began. She and her friends tried on pink and purple wigs, sampled bouffant styles and donned pin-straight ponytails. In the end, Pam chose the “Dixie Pixie,” which resembled her usual short blond do.

To calm her nerves on the way to her genetic-testing appointment, she and her mother wagered a bet on the outcome. “I thought, why not make a contest of it?” Pam says. “I bet I didn’t have the gene, she bet I did. I thought, God, my mother is betting against me? Well, thanks a lot. Little games like this made scary moments much easier to deal with.”

Laugh whenever possible.
Every year, Pam organizes a “Women Only, Bad Golf Encouraged” golf tournament to benefit the American Cancer Society. She always delivers a humorous welcome speech. The year she underwent chemo, she whipped off her baseball cap to expose her bald head. “I’ve been selected as the year’s Chia Pet holiday season promotion,” she announced. “It broke the ice,” recalls Pam. “It made people realize, She’s okay; she got through it.” 


March 2013