How I laughed in the face of cancer

When I was 16 and undergoing treatment for a type of brain cancer called medulloblastoma, one of the best pieces of advice I got was from a nurse at MD Anderson.

Early on, LeighAnna Hutchinson told me: “Find your laugh.” It was hard sometimes, but I took her advice. I looked for every opportunity I could to laugh at what was going on. And laughing in the face of cancer was what helped me get through some hard and unpleasant experiences.

Finding humor in hair loss

One way I found my laugh was by wearing different color wigs. I lost my hair within a few months of starting chemotherapy, so my mother and grandmother bought me a ton of wigs. I had so many colors: red, pink, blue, blonde. You name it, I had it.

There were a bunch of different hairstyles, too. Some were long, and some were cute little bobs. Obviously, the wigs were purchased for me to wear. But whenever my grandmother or mom noticed I was feeling sad, she would put on one of the sillier ones. It never failed to make me smile. 

Inside jokes about bodily functions and bathroom humor

Bodily functions also became kind of funny. Sometimes during chemotherapy, I’d pass gas unexpectedly, right in the middle of a conversation. I’d usually say something like, “And that’s what I think about that.” The whole room always had a good laugh.

I also wore a button on my shirt that read, “I pooped today,” because cancer patients get asked a lot if they’re having regular bowel movements or are constipated due to pain medications. Instead of waiting for me to announce it, my doctors would just ask for the button. It became an amusing inside joke.

Sharing the cancer experience with friends

The best way I found my laugh was by sharing whatever I was going through with my friends — especially those who also had cancer.

It was like, “Oh, you threw up? Great! Let’s laugh about it. Then let’s go find a lollipop to get that taste out of your mouth.” Or, “Oh, you’re neutropenic? Great! Let’s go to The Park. I know it’s not a real park, but it’s the closest thing we’re going to get to being outside right now.”

It was fine to be angry, of course, and sometimes, I was. But I knew it was not OK to stay in my room all day, or to treat anybody badly. As long as I was laughing with my friends, I found that I didn’t let myself go down a dark emotional path. And that made my journey a lot easier.

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