By Brenda Burling, author of Might Make You Smile

Brenda Burling

Brenda Burling

It is said laughter is the best medicine but surely not with something like cancer? In fact, on the contrary, as I have found out, it is exactly ‘something like cancer’ that this old adage particularly applies.

Having spoken to so many people affected by cancer, from patients, families, doctors and carers, I came to find that it is the laughter and humour that is often found during illness that keeps them going.

A perfect example of this is during the research for Might Make You Smile. A collection of real-life stories of light-hearted stories from people living with cancer, which as far as I’m aware is the first book of its kind.

Every single person I spoke to who had dealt with the effects of the disease, its treatments and the subsequent side effects of the said treatments (often deemed worse than both the disease and the treatment themselves), and life after cancer (yes, for so many there is life after cancer thanks to ongoing ground-breaking research) had an amusing tale to tell, long or short.

The stories ranged from unfortunate make-up gaffes (metallic green eyebrows instead of soft brown), uncontrollable dripping noses due to total body hair loss and a huge variety of wig mishaps, to name but a few.

All the tales were regaled by those who had actually experienced them and recited with such delight, laughter and a lust for wanting to share the humour. All were able to state categorically that they and those around them benefitted from the sharing a joke or something funny that had actually happened to them.

These things were able to help relieve tension, anxiety and, in the case of family and friends closest to the person dealing directly with the disease, humour offered a show of coping. In return, this helps lighten the burden of feeling helpless which is often experienced by those nearest and dearest.

Finding humour in the darkest of times is something human beings can sometimes excel at. It is often thought to be one of our survival mechanisms.

Humour also breaks down barriers. It could be barriers between patient and consultant, husband and wife, or family and friends. No one ever really knows how they will react to serious or long-term illness but if a joke or a funny turn of events can be shared then it can make all the difference. 

Humour that is shared has the ability to bring people together, lift a mood and show all are united in one goal, to get well. I had the great fortune to speak to many members of a cancer support group in Essex, where I live. The sharing of amusing anecdotes at the group helped make those going through cancer understand that they aren’t alone.

It is often a huge comfort to know that something you might be going through has been experienced by somebody else; especially when you do not want to burden those closest with how you are feeling or coping.  If there are aspects of treatments or the illness itself that are embarrassing to share then that experience with someone who has been there and has laughed at the situation can give great positivity and encouragement.

I like to say that humour can be a weapon against disease; shared humour is twice as strong. A smile is precious, laughter is priceless.

Might Make You Smile by Brenda Burling (Matthew James Publishing Ltd) is out now, priced £7.99 in paperback. Ten per cent of net sales from the book will be donated to the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity.