I Find Hope in Cancer-themed Humor

I Find Hope in Cancer-themed Humor

I have a confession: I like cancer humor.

I would share a cancer joke, but I know it’s not everyone’s thing. Some people are offended by it. Some are saddened by it. Some are angered.

But a good cancer joke can usually make me laugh.

I couldn’t always laugh at cancer. My cancer diagnosis came out of nowhere. My life became a whirlwind of scans and blood tests and biopsies. I didn’t have time to think. Then about 10 days after my diagnosis, I saw a specialist. And that’s when it hit me. For the next two weeks, I’d burst into tears every half hour or so. It was the darkest time of my life, without a doubt. I could find no humor and no joy.

Then after a long talk with my wife, I started to crawl out of that hole. And eventually, I got back to my old self, using laughter as a way of coping. It was, for me, a sign that hope had returned.

I’ll give you an example: The treatment I received for my follicular lymphoma was rituximab. It’s a monoclonal antibody containing mouse cells. When I had my first round of rituximab, I had an allergic reaction (which is very common) and developed a severe rash and chills.

Writing about the experience on my blog, I joked that despite the allergic reaction, the worst side effect of those mouse cells was that they made me fantasize about Minnie Mouse. (My wife was good enough to help me recreate the moment for a photo).

My Minnie Mouse moment. (Courtesy of Bob McEachern)

Another example: I celebrate my “diagnosiversary” every year, and my daughter usually makes a cake. She’s an accomplished cake decorator. One year she made me these: cupcakes made to look like B lymphocytes, the cells that become cancerous in follicular lymphoma.

B-cell cupcakes. (Courtesy of Bob McEachern)

I like cancer humor because it reminds me of the heroes in action movies who use humor when confronted with dangerous situations.

Take Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator.” He finally meets his enemy, and his reaction is: “You are one ugly mother f —–.”

Or Jessica Jones in “The Defenders.” She is fighting an army of supernatural enemies. When she meets them in their underground lair, she says, “Look, I don’t give a s— what you guys are doing … down here … in your secret … ‘cave thing.’ I just came to talk.”

What do they have in common? They come face-to-face with something dangerous, even deadly, and they laugh in its face.

And that’s how I feel about cancer. I don’t want the villain to have the satisfaction of thinking I’m scared. Joking about cancer doesn’t make it go away. But it brings it down to earth a little bit.

I know that not everyone can joke about cancer. But it works for me.

I mean, it’s pretty hard to be afraid of something you’re about to eat.


Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

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Bob McEachern is a Follicular Lymphoma patient and advocate. He was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma, a slow-growing but incurable blood cancer, in 2008. Since then, he has used his blog, Lympho Bob, to bring information and hope to other FL patients. A writing teacher and married father of three, he enjoys gardening, music, and travel.


  1. Donna says:

    The entire year or so I was fighting cancer was the most horrid time of my life as I had to fight alone. The first words out of my husband’s mouth when I received the news was, “I want a divorce.” Literally, about 1 minute after I found out. Anyway, looking back now, there were some very humorous situations. Like the time I could not make it home from chemo before becoming violently ill. I laid down in the yard of a preschool puking my guts up. I am sure those children will need therapy because of me! Now I find it amusing. What a sight I must have made!

    • Donna, I’m sorry you had to go through that alone. But it sounds like your sense of humor stayed intact, which is great. I know it’s hard for a lot of people to see the humor in things (especially like the situation you described), but I like to think it makes me stronger. Stay strong yourself. ~Bob

  2. Michelle McDermott says:

    I so agree with you Bob, once I was able to get my head around this diagnosis, the tears stopped and the laughter came back. One of my goals since diagnosis has been to laugh every day. It releases endorphins which keep pain in check and always leave you with that feel good sensation. (I must admit, most days I’m down-right giddy!) I’ve also been known to use the “I have cancer” excuse with my husband once or twice in order to opt out of something, he just laughs at me. Did I say that, I love your sense of humor?!

    • Thank you, Shelly! You’re the best. I’ve played that cancer card a few times, too. When it doesn’t work, it’s because people are shocked and don’t know how to respond, and that somehow just makes it funnier.
      I hope you keep reaching your goal. Keep laughing. ~ Bob

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