When Tragedy Meets Comedy

This post was originally published on the amazing Woogsworld blog. The wonderful, supportive, and hilarious responses I received, the encouragement from Mrs Woog and prodding from my husband are the reason this blog of mine now exists.

I recently read an article here about a study done by researchers in the US, which essentially showed that it takes 36 days after a tragedy for jokes about that tragedy to become funny. To clarify, we’re talking about large-scale tragedies like Hurricane Sandy in the US, and not your five year old missing an episode of the Octonauts (although the fallout from that can be quite terrifying). Apparently, if you try a one liner on days 1- 35 post-tragedy you’ll be met with stony silence, but come day 36 you’ll have them laughing in the aisles.

This article made me think about the issue on a smaller scale, and my own responses to personal tragedy. I deal with most difficult situations with a big dash of humour – a psychologist might say it’s because I’m an emotional cripple who uses humour to push down those uncomfortable feelings, but I like to think that I was born with a glass half full kind of attitude which helps when you are wading through the waist-deep shit that life sometimes throws at you.

The past ten years of my life have seen the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows. Highs like marrying the best person I’ve ever met and giving birth to our healthy son. Lows like having four miscarriages, the last of which saw me on the floor bleeding and alone in the toilets at my workplace. To be frank, there is no humour in the personal tragedy that is miscarriage, whether it be 36 or 365 days later. But I’ve since faced what I hope is the biggest challenge of my life (because seriously if shit gets any bigger than this, it’s all over rover), which I guess fits the bill as a personal tragedy, and to be honest it’s been the source of some real belly laughs.

In October 2012 I was diagnosed with cancer. I was 42 and healthy as a horse. I’d found a lump in my breast, immediately gone to the GP who said ‘oh I don’t think it’s anything to worry about’ (famous last words right there), followed by scans, two biopsies (first one was inconclusive) and then the earth-shattering phone call two days later. Not only did I have breast cancer, but a very aggressive type which had already spread into my lymph nodes. They cut my right breast off the next day, as well as removing 16 lymph nodes. When I received the pathology report in hospital, it noted that the removed breast had weighed 1.5kg. I asked the oncologist if he thought I could legitimately claim that as a loss at my next Weight Watchers meeting, and quickly discovered that whilst I might not subscribe to the 36 day rule, he sure did.

Chemotherapy is not funny, until it is. One particular day my drug regime was changed. Due to common allergic reactions from one of my new drugs, I was given an infusion of a powerful antihistamine drug through my drip before the chemo drug. The nurse administering the drugs failed to mention that I’d be having the antihistamine, and if she had I might have told her that I can have odd reactions to many common medications, particularly antihistamines. But she didn’t, so as the drug started pumping through my veins, I started hallucinating in the most spectacular way, at which point I pronounced very loudly to the entire chemo ward that ‘this shit is good’. Apparently my speech was so slurred that my friend who had accompanied me to chemo for moral support thought I was having a stroke, and at that point bashed long and hard on the red emergency button. In my drug-addled haze I started laughing hysterically to the point that I was braying and snorting like a donkey, and once the medical staff worked out what was going on, they all joined in the laughter. I apparently provided much mirth for the entire ward until the effects of the antihistamine wore off several hours later. When I returned for my next round of chemo two weeks later, one of the other patients who was having her infusion set up said ‘this shit is good’ as I walked past her bed. Comedy gold right there.

Quite possibly the best joke about my cancer came from my husband (otherwise known as the most supportive man in the universe). After chemo and radiation were done, we decided to that despite the fact it was June, a trip to the coast was in order. Our four year old would swim happily with icebergs, so there was no putting him off the idea of a dip in the outdoor pool, regardless of the fact it was 11 degrees outside. Of course he needed an adult in with him, and despite me pulling the ‘but I’ve had cancer’ card to try and get out of it (which I have done many times since) I ended up getting in the pool with him. As first my legs, then my torso felt the temperature of the water, I started shaking and my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. That was when my husband, in his ever-laconic fashion, says from his position in dry, warm clothes by the side of the pool ‘You know, if you had two tits they’d both be freezing off right now’.

As the old saying goes, comedy is tragedy plus time. For some of us, that time is 36 days, for other the equation requires a far shorter amount of time to pass before shit gets funny.

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