By BRONWYN HOPE
A funny thing happened a few days after my 48th birthday. Instead of a birthday present, my doctor gave me these four words. ‘You. Have. Breast. Cancer’.
Alright, I admit it wasn’t actually funny at the time. But two years on, I can honestly say that having breast cancer taught me that you really can laugh – and loudly – in the face of adversity.
At first there’s nothing at all funny about facing the prospect of your untimely demise.
But there can be a lot that is funny about what happens in the process of trying to delay that inevitability. There is a lot you can laugh at if you have the right attitude.
I guess I’m lucky; that attitude is second nature to me. I like to think I’m a funny person. I have a love of stand-up comedy but t’s not my day job – it’s a hobby. I love laughing and I get a weird sort of ‘high’ from being able to make someone else laugh.
It’s the one time I feel really connected with other people, and I’m always looking for something – or someone – to laugh at.
So when I found out I had breast cancer, it seemed natural to find ways to laugh at that too.
As it turned out, I was also able to make other people laugh (and cry a little too).
In the first few days after my first lumpectomy, a friend encouraged me to share my story. I started a blog and with some difficulty, kept writing all the way through my treatment.
At the time I had no idea where it would go or why I was doing it. My purpose wasn’t immediately clear but as my story progressed, I realized I wanted people to know exactly what it means to have a diagnosis of breast cancer.
One of the first things I learned along the way is that when faced with a life-threatening disease, your emotional responses are deepened.
Everything is felt more profoundly – love, despair, anger and, importantly, the emotion at the heart of humour – happiness.
So what exactly did I find funny?
Here are 10 funny things I observed after enduring six doses of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, 25 shots of radiation and now, ongoing hormonal therapy:
1. An expensive wig, when accidentally put through a wash cycle, looks like a mangy family pet or the aftermath of a Brazilian gone horribly wrong.
2. A human whose hair falls out will inevitably pass at least a few months where she looks a bit like Mao Tse Tung, Long March and all.
3. A bald woman can increase her friends’ luck if they pat her head three times and make a wish.
4. A breast prosthesis placed in a husband’s crotch can truly enhance his attributes. Fabio eat your heart out.
5. Having no tits is really great for body surfing. I kid you not. I never used to be able to catch a wave! Now I think I should get a tattoo of the Billabong logo on my bum because I make a pretty good surfboard.
6. Having no tits is a godsend in a crowded lift. You can always, always squeeze yourself in without worrying about some strange buffoon having a sneaky little grope of your ‘babies’.
7. After a double mastectomy you might become something of a pervert, with an unhealthy interest in other women’s breasts. Unfortunately this is not an obsession you are likely to grow out of.
8. Women bearing mastectomy scars often behave as if they have a flea infestation. They also often appear to be inappropriately – and dare I say somewhat aggressively – fondling their nipples when in the public domain.
9. ‘Shapers’ it seems were invented especially for women receiving hormonal therapy. After chemo, most of us wake up looking like the eighth of Snow White’s dwarfs – ‘Dumpy’.
10 And finally, the side effect of breast cancer therapy that is hardest to take is the one no one ever mentions. Why oh why don’t our mothers ever tell us about vaginal dryness?
Now my blog has been assembled in a new book, “The Breast is History: An Intimate Memoir of Breast Cancer”.
I would like to think this book will be a useful guide for other women facing breast cancer treatment (and their friends and family), helping them better understand and prepare for what lies ahead.
Bronwyn Hope is a Brisbane-based writer and wannabe comedian. Her book, ‘The Breast is History: An Intimate Memoir of Breast Cancer’ is available now via www.thebreastishistory.com