This evening a friend called to say she had breast cancer. I felt my breath leave me for a few minutes while she explained the details and then offered a light nod to the situation. She had been complaining to her children that she did not understand how she, of all her family, could get breast cancer when she only had size A breasts.
“With you, Mom, it’s really skin cancer then,” humorously offered one of her daughters.
Humans so amazingly break tension with comedy. Perhaps it is what the Italians refer to as the bittersweetness of life, this ability to find goodness and light in the middle of trauma and hardship. I’ll never forget listening to my grandfather, in his own fight against cancer, rant about lack of potassium. As a grown up, I know now that what he was really yelling about that afternoon twenty-five years ago was not that his doctors were disregarding his body’s need for a particular vitamin, but that he was dying, knew it, and was angry about it.
“What are you going to do if I just pass out, right here, right now, from lack of potassium?” he demanded of my sister and I, the unfortunate witnesses of his tirade. We were no more than twelve and fifteen years old.
“Shove a banana in your mouth?” asked my sister. Silence ensued, and then, in a flood of relief, unexpected laughter.
A close family friend tells this story about his father’s passing when my friend was just a boy. He and his brother were sitting on the edge of the bed, listening to their mother weep and complain. Their father had just died a day earlier and their mother was looking for a pair of socks that would stand up. She was becoming more frantic in her search for appropriate accessories to dress her deceased husband. Suddenly aware that the dead rest horizontally in coffins, my friend said, “But Mom, Dad doesn’t need socks that stand up anymore.” The same response followed, as did in the above two stories: grief broken by laughter.
My girlfriend will survive her cancer. She is one of the lucky ones who was awarded an early diagnosis and a 99% survival rate. I hope her sense of humor guides her through her surgery and treatment. I know she won’t take another day for granted despite the encouraging outcome promised by her doctors. Frankly, thanks to her today, I won’t either.
Best of health everyone, and cheers to your own ability to find a smile in the challenges of your day.