Laughing to Heal
The last thing generally associated with a cancer diagnosis is laughter. But within days of my cancer diagnosis, at distinct odds with my gloomy mood, a pre-arranged commitment to lead a laughter session at a ladies’ lingerie party saw me laughing hysterically. As a laughter wellness facilitator I led the crowd to peals of laughter, and for the first time in days I experienced a lightness of being. The lead weights that had instantaneously crippled me on diagnosis lifted.
Just one week shy of my 42nd birthday I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. My entire foundation was shaken to its core, but it also propelled me on a journey to practice what I preach: using laughter to help me heal. As a laughter wellness facilitator this should have been easy, but I soon discovered how difficult it is to laugh, or even contemplate laughter, when you’re frightened and feeling very much alone.
This really was no laughing matter
Embedded deep within however, I also sensed that this cancer was going to teach me something important. For my kids, for my husband, for my self, I had to get through this, and make something good of it, and I could not shake the feeling that it had something to do with laughter.
Days after the bowel resection operation, during an unforeseen episode, which filled me with panic, that same feeling revisited; I knew I had to do something to shift to a more positive mindset. Laughter really was the last thing I felt like, or was capable of doing. Post-op even moving a fraction of a millimeter led to searing pain; including the extra tentative breaths I took. I felt like I had been run over by a semi-trailer, the only difference was that on the outside I still looked in tact.
Staring me in the eye was a large white hospital placemat lining the meals tray. I mapped out a tiny, thin column and began writing. I started listing all the positives of my current situation, such as appreciating how miraculous every functioning part of the body is; the importance of slowing down, even if it had been enforced; and of the body’s miraculous capacity to heal. As I glanced at the large void on the remaining space I felt compelled to keep writing.
Soon I was consumed by feelings of gratitude and deep love for myself, for others: for just being alive. A beaming smile now replaced the look of sheer terror that had gripped me in the moments prior. Not only was my face smiling, but just focusing on these wondrous life-affirming feelings I became aware that my whole body was smiling.
It was as if every cell, every tissue and every aching muscle, was filled with the love embodied in this genuine, heart felt smile. I laughed inwardly as my writing got smaller and smaller, as I struggled to squeeze and cram all the things I wanted to say into this diminishing space.
I had done it. From bleakness came light.
From fear came love, and with it, an inner conviction that it would only be a matter of time before I would be laughing and really living again, surrounded by my loved ones. When the same nurse who had comforted me before came to check in on me, to her surprise and delight I greeted her with a smile.
A laughter wellness mindset is not just about the physical act of laughing, but a broader philosophy that harnesses the energy of laughter and smiling to improve physical, emotional, social, psychological and even spiritual health. It became my salvation and guiding light. I mean who hasn’t heard the adage that laughter is the best medicine. And I certainly put it to the test!
It was not always easy, but I consciously chose to integrate smiling and laughter into my daily healing practice. This was not something I was going to leave it to chance. Soon my body healed sufficiently to enjoy the company of visitors, but I was very selective.
Initially I avoided friends with whom I regularly had shared bellicose laughter with – it was just too risky having them around! However, when strong enough I hurried them back to buoy my spirits. Oh, to laugh and feel a little more human. I vetted doomsday, worst-case scenario, or those tainted by a negative mindset, opting instead for nurturing, empathetic and gentle-spirited friends.
Laughing at Cancer
TV viewing included a daily dose of comedy. Back in my home with my family, the sheer delight in the four of us sandwiched on our 3-seater couch, laughing and sniggling at British classics such as The Young Ones, and Blackadder and finding it hard to hold back the laughter in Beauty and The Geek reliably delivering some classic snort out loud, one-liners; “History goes back to the dinosaurs, but I don’t know how because I don’t think dinosaurs could have kept records.” (Beauty)
Of course for many months I still had pain and moments where I was less than thrilled with what life had doled out, but my laughter mindset always seemed to help in some way. I devoted 20 or so minutes each day to lie in stillness, beginning by focusing on my breath, then placing a genuine, heart felt smile on my face. I would project this smile on to the surgery sites and other areas that I felt would benefit from ‘intensive smiling’. As much as my body would allow, I would breathe the smile deeply into the core of my being, and exhale it’s radiance throughout my whole being, until it’s healing glow filtered throughout every fibre of my body. It didn’t take long before my whole being; mind, body and spirit, was smiling.
At times I would add laughter to this meditation practice, either by chuckling to myself, including some simulated laughter exercises, or even thinking of something funny that would help stimulate laughter. Sometimes I would laugh at the sheer fact I was laughing for seemingly no other reason than to feel better. At times I noticed a degree of inner resistance, but at others the laughter flowed and gushed like a magnificent fountain in full force. In this meditative state, and for a while afterwards, I felt revived and stronger. I was also consumed by a deep love, so much stronger than any physical or emotional pain, together with feelings I could never have imagined prior to this life-changing event. But then again, I probably had not needed to.
To be able to laugh was the penultimate freedom, instantly freeing me from the shackles of ill health. I recall vividly the first time post op laughing without fear that my innards would explode. My eyes filled with tears, my whole body seemed to fill with tears – tears of relief, tears of joy, tears of life.
Like a switch when sparked, laughter and smiling became my salvation.
Even just allowing the feeling of laughter to penetrate my core could ignite this transformation. By consciously choosing to laugh or smile, I felt my whole self orienting to a more positive mindset. I was awe struck at what an amazing healer laughter was. Without the trappings of 1000s of dollars required to purchase it, or many hours on a plane to source it, laughter is an inner resource. We all possess it, even if it has been long buried, mired by lives characterized by tribulation, hurt or hardship. All that is required is to give permission to ourselves for it to be (re) activated.
Not only have I experienced first hand its expansive healing power, but as a laughter wellness facilitator, I have also been blessed and privileged to help others heal with laughter; to latch onto this lifeline. Even when it seemed the farthermost thing from mind, both in myself and for others. I have witnessed the elderly reclaim their youth, reassuming a skip in their stride and sparkle in their eyes; a beam of light literally emanating from the eyes of a dialysis patient after a hearty laughter session, and the tears of joy and relief as mountains of stress are dissolved by laughter by the well, the ‘every man’.
I have yet to meet anyone who does not like to laugh, or who does not feel better for it. And why? Because laughter is one of the shortest paths to happiness, even if it begins with a simulated laughter exercise, as long as it is done with an open heart and mind. Laughter revives, laughter unites and laughter uplifts.
Now almost 5 years post surgery, what began as a desire to help others has become a personal quest. I can’t live without laughter; it’s part of my DNA. I love its warm, energizing embrace, healing all those touched by it; myself included. I have learnt that you don’t have to wait until you are unwell to adopt a laughter wellness mindset. In fact it is one of the best ways of ensuring a healthy body and mind at any and every stage of life.
Laughter is a potent healer, and I for one am not leaving it to chance.
It continues to heal me and has made me whole. As a laughter wellness facilitator, my good fortune is to share the gift of laughter with as many people as I possibly can, blazing a trail of light and love, hope and happiness. Where there is laughter is life. Where there is life there is love.
In love and laughter,
Ros is Positivity Resilience and Wellness Coach, Author and Director of LaughLife Wellbeing Programs, http://laughlife.com.au a leading provider of laughter wellness, positivity and mindfulness programs. She is also Adjunct lecturer at the School of Public Health and Psychology. Ros is author of the critically acclaimed “Laughing at cancer – How to Heal with Love, Laughter and Mindfulness” based on a series of journals she wrote following a shock diagnosis of bowel cancer at the age of 42. It is part memoir and part healing guide on how to create a positive mindset in the face of adversity.
Ros is Ambassador for the digital CancerAid app, Laughter expert for The Love Destination, mentor for Bowel Cancer Australia peer/buddy program, and Global Laughter Yoga Ambassador. She has written for an extensive range of health and wellbeing publications as well as general media such as The Huffington Post, Mamamia and Wellbeing magazine. Media interviews and publications: http://laughlife.com.au/links/ and http://laughlife.com.au/articles-by-ros/.