As I reflect on my chordoma diagnosis, surgery and setbacks, I think back to my most recent surgery and smile. I remember Sujit Prabhu, M.D., professor of Neurosurgery, telling me there was no sign of cancer.
He then told me the bad news: the screws holding my head on had come loose -- again.
I have been told I have a few loose screws before, but I did not realize he was serious. The screws doctors put in during my original chordoma surgery were actually loose, and I needed another surgery to correct the problem.
I wanted to shake my head in disbelief. Then I remembered I couldn't shake my head. It might fall off. But then I began joking with Dr. Prabhu and asked if they were using recycled parts in my head.
Finding humor in my chordoma treatment
Since receiving my chordoma diagnosis and undergoing two surgeries to fix loose screws, bolts, rods and other hardware, I have run the course of emotions. Anger has shown its ugly head, but I used humor to heal my spirit and the spirit of others. The science behind laughter is proven to help with pain, depression and anxiety, and that's proven to be the case for me.
As cancer patients, there are times we have to laugh or we would sit and cry. There are the indignities: the hospital gowns, the pain, the worries and the unknowns we endure. Why not laugh about it? I try to make every appointment as fun as possible. Is it easy? No. However, I try to laugh or make others laugh, especially other patients.
Just sitting and talking with other patients can be so much fun. If we can suffer together, we should also be able to laugh together.
Creating reasons to smile
Here are some things I have done to bring a smile to my face or to those of others during my chordoma treatment:
- Before my surgeries, my sister wrote, "Handle with Care," below the surgical site. It's a friendly reminder for the doctors and staff. I even had her take a picture to post on my Facebook page.
- When the nurse asked what procedure I was having during pre-op, I joked that I was undergoing a sex change. She laughed and shot back, "I think you are at the wrong hospital for that."
- After I was wheeled into the operating room, I asked my care team to gather around and introduce themselves, and told them I had instructions for them on my back.
- Before the phlebotomist even sticks me to draw blood, I wince in pain. The phlebotomists then always reassure me that they haven't touched me. I let them know I'm just practicing. Afterwards, I thank the phlebotomist for not making me cry and give him or her a small box of candy.
- The one I still laugh about is my first meal with my peg feeding tube. The bubbly nutritionist asked me if I wanted chocolate or vanilla liquid feed. I wasn't able to talk because of my tracheostomy, so I wrote, "Will I be able to taste it?" She said, "No," then looked at me and smiled, knowing it really didn't matter.
- Transport to and from various locations in a wheelchair or gurney can also be fun. I do the queen wave and smile to everyone as I pass, saying in a loud voice, "Comin' round" as I turn corners. I recommend you try it.
As the button on my backpack says, "Cancer sucks." It does suck, but laughing about it can make it suck just a little less.
We can choose to cry, and feel angry or sorry for ourselves. I have taken this route many times. In fact, I did so this week and will probably do so again tomorrow. We are entitled to feel this way from time to time.
But we have another option, too: we can try to find the humor in our situation.
Take a minute and laugh. I promise it's better than crying.
Hank Lech was ordained a Catholic priest but left active ministry. He has been in the social work field for many years. He has one daughter who is in college. He enjoys carpentry, gardening and cooking.