The Healing Power of Humor by Dorrie Ferguson, PsyD

“Laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” ~ Brene Brown

October is breast cancer awareness month. According to the American Cancer Society around 39% of Americans will have a cancer diagnosis at some point during their lifetimes.To anyone who is supporting a family member, or friend through cancer, it is impossible not to look at the pink ribbons and wonder how you can help?

Though breast cancer awareness month encourage us to reflect, and seek a cure, the reality of how to support a loved one with cancer is feels murky. How do you interact with, and support someone, after a life-changing diagnosis? One answer may be surprising: it’s a good hearty belly laugh! 

Research shows that many individuals who go through cancer treatments report wanting friends, family, and doctors to use humor when interacting with them. They want to laugh!

It’s not uncommon for individuals who are diagnosed with cancer to lament that friends and family no longer engage with them in the same way they did before the diagnosis. Instead of light- hearted family gathers, loved ones tend to want to honor the seriousness of the diagnosis. In doing so, the cancer patient is suddenly treated differently, they can feel as if they are limited to the role of someone who is “sick.”

Laughing together has many health and social benefits. Shared laughter is a healthy way to build stronger connections, relieve stress, and gently share difficult experiences. The Gottman Institute indicates that laughing with a significant other during times of stress relaxes the nervous system.

One word of caution: “Aggressive humor” or jokes that belittle, or hurt the recipient are painful and damaging. Most can conjure images of the school bully who taunted his or her peers. For humor to be supportive, it must be shared, appreciated, and welcomed by all involved.

During breast cancer awareness month make time to connect and relax over laughter! Support a cancer patient or a caregiver by joking together.

If you worry you don’t have any good hearty jokes to share watch a Melissa McCarthy movie, or old Saturday Night Live skits with your loved one! The most important thing is spending quality, joy filled, moments together.

Resources for Cancer Patients and Their Loved One’s

American Cancer Society

Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor

Gilda’s Club Chicago

Imerman Angels