A Sudden Trip Over Hodgkin's Disease

June to December 1999

Chemotherapy Number Two

1999: 2 - 6 August, Cabrini Hospital

…My oncologist comes back to me saying the sweating is nothing to worry about. His words help me to settle my mind. Consciously or unconsciously he knows the importance of maintaining my optimism.

At work some friends there say I look well, but not Mark, my pommy friend at work, who asks me how I feel.
When I say, "I feel tired".
He replies, "Well you look like shit".
It is typical British humour. I rather enjoy the interaction and ask him whether he has ever kicked someone who was standing up.(1)

I hired the film Patch Adams on video some time ago not realizing how relevant it would be although my Army experience showed me how important humour is to general healing, or even a cure. When Norman Cousins found out that he suffered from a disease that was virtually incurable, and that would kill him, he got his family to bring to his hospital room as many comedy films as his family could find, then spent all day watching them. In his best selling autobiography, Anatomy of an Illness, he describes how he was cured of his terminal illness by the "medicine of laughter". When we laugh we actually change our body chemistry. Our body produces peptides and endorphins in our blood stream that can heal our body. The endorphins released are the body's own opiates and are many times more powerful than morphine and hundreds of times more powerful than heroin (2). Tears of laughter actually have a different chemical makeup to tears of sadness…

1 I think there are three sources of humour, each with a specific intent: either to gain a sense of superiority/power, to experience physical pleasure from the release of endorphins, or to relieve stress in life threatening/ black situations. The first is characterised by "put down" humour and is commonly the motivation behind racist, ethnic or sexist jokes. The potential pleasure from jokes is the result of the endorphins released. However, the British sense of humour excels when it comes to facing hardship and life-threatening situations. So humour originates from one of the three selfish drives - Power, Pleasure or Survival. However, humour around Survival connects to Meaning and is the most uplifting. In the New Scientist: 18 May 2002 No 2343; pg 48. Silvia Cardoso, a behavioural scientist at the State University of Campinas, Brazil believes laughter's "function is surely communication. We need to build social structures in order to live well in our society and evolution has selected laughter as a useful device for promoting social communication".
2 Cornejo, 1995 and Davis, 1984.