The co-authors of Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, blog alternate posts weekly. We invite you to post your comments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Healing Power of Laughter


If you have just been diagnosed with prostate cancer you are not alone. The American Cancer Society estimated that there would be over 241,000 new cases in the U.S. in 2012. And those men probably received a ton of information and advice from multiple sources to help them choose the best treatment.

Obviously their choice had to be guided by the clinical stage of their cancer, the extent of the disease, and their age and overall health. Undoubtedly they asked dozens of questions before making a final treatment decision.  But a question seldom asked is: “What are the psychological implications of the treatment?”

My prostate cancer journey began in 1990, and I monitored the cancer for 12 years before my PSA bumped up to a point that made some form of treatment necessary.  I chose hormone blockade, because being deprived of testosterone seemed more appealing than having my prostate sliced out or fried by electrons. However, I discovered that every cancer treatment comes with a stiff price—both physically and psychologically. So what is the best way to help combat the fear and stress of dealing with prostate cancer?

For me, the great “home remedy,” the ultimate anti-oxidant, is laughter. And that is not some demented form of denial. Over the past ten years, I have found that of all the things people have recommended to help get me through the bad times, laughter is at the top of the list.

“The best doctors in the world are Doctor Diet, Doctor Quiet and Doctor Merryman.” So wrote Jonathan Swift (1667-1743). Norman Cousins emphasized the healing power of laughter in his book, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins called laughter “internal jogging.” And in his book, Peace, Love & Healing, Bernie Siegel wrote that, “love, laughter and peace of mind are physiologic.”

Without a doubt, laughter is the ultimate antioxidant. Here’s how the Discovery Health Web site describes the impact of laughter on the immune system: “When we laugh, natural killer cells which destroy tumors and viruses increase, along with Gamma-interferon (a disease-fighting protein), T cells (important for our immune system) and B cells (which make disease-fighting antibodies. As well as lowering blood pressure, laughter increases oxygen in the blood, which also encourages healing.”

Believe me when I say that my somewhat warped sense of humor has been a blessing to me in devastating moments. Time and again I have seen the relief and release that even stupid jokes or bawdy humor can provide to men who are under the gun. Cousins claimed he laughed his way back to health with old Groucho movies. For me, it was the amazing Carol Burnett, with the Marx Brothers a close second.

So find what works for you, because studies have shown that the debilitating emotion of fear can’t coexist with laughter, and that the relaxation response following a good laugh is worth its weight in gold. The message is clear: Lighten up!

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