The Power of a Laugh
Cancer. Just hearing that word can be very scary, and living with the illness can be life changing. Whether it’s someone that has battled cancer for years or has just received a diagnosis, sometimes one of the most powerful tools to help with the pain and stress that come with such an illness is to laugh and maintain a sense of humor.
The simple act of laughter can make the unbearable more bearable. Through Laughter Club, at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Illinois, patients and caregivers find a welcome relief from the daily reality of cancer. While it may be challenging to find humor while experiencing feelings of worry or sadness, making time to laugh may be surprisingly helpful.
Throughout history, people have been using humor as medicine. As early as the 13th century, surgeons used humor to distract patients from their pain. Today, laughter therapy is a popular complementary therapy used in conjunction with traditional treatments. Since the Laughter Club was introduced at CTCA in 2004, many participants have shared that using humor and laughter has helped them find joy and improve their overall quality of life and well-being. Many had never realized that a little laugh could go such a long way.
There is a growing body of research on the effects of humor, laughter and mirth, and preliminary evidence indicates that they can strengthen the immune system. Other benefits include increasing specific antibodies, reducing stress hormones, regulating the circulatory system, easing pain and relaxing muscles throughout the body. While it’s hard to imagine, therapeutic humor and laughter do not depend on comedy or jokes, but rather on the overall experience of connecting with others while sharing silly laughter exercises and focusing on good-hearted living. Patients often say that Laughter Club takes their minds off cancer and reminds them that even while going through an experience so stressful, they can still have some fun and pleasure in life.
Beyond the strain treatment can take on the body, such as unwanted side effects like nausea or hair loss, patients also grapple with an emotional toll. It can be difficult to step away from the worry, but “playing pretend” can provide the needed trigger to lighten the mood and cue the laughs. One patient at Laughter Club suggested the idea of having a fake snowball fight. Throw and get hit by imaginary snowballs. Sneak up on a friend and put a snowball down someone’s back. This permission to play might just be the ticket to laughter and all the healing benefits that come with it.
People at Laughter Club warm up with the three laughter centers of the body— the “hee-hees” in the head, the “ha-has” in the heart and the “ho-hos” in the belly. To experience a laughter session, try singing along to a favorite tune in the car or shower, using this laughter “language” in place of the regular words. Incorporating “hee-hee,” “ha-ha,” and “ho-ho” in the lyrics can lighten things up and help give in to the gift of giggling.
Dr. Katherine Puckett is the national director of Mind-Body Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. For more information, call 800-333-CTCA, or visit CancerCenter.com.