A stand up comedian with a mic and a chemo IV stand

Gallows Humor: Poking Fun at Cancer

Last updated: May 2022

I admit to being a little dark. Not my skin or my hair, but my humor. Ten years of chemotherapy and sometimes all I need is a laugh. It’s this need to minimize the situation in my own head. To make a joke of it somehow. To just get through the day despite all these symptoms that keep me guessing. So I try to find some humor in it all...

You know cancer sucks at first.

But it grows on you over time.

Battling leukemia for a decade has made me seek out laughter. To choose laughter over tears time and time again. It purges. It releases all those feel-good hormones and relaxes me.

Cancer is easy to beat.

I’m already at stage 4!

My humor may not be seen as appropriate to everyone, but the longer I live with CML the more I need to make light of it in order to live with it. It just gets so darn heavy otherwise.

What movie did the leukemia patient watch last night?

Finding chemo.

I like the term gallows humor. And for good reason.

Living with a chronic, incurable cancer is like being stuck in the upright position in a whack-a-mole game. The hammer could come down at any time.

What’s ten feet long and bald?

The conga line at the cancer ward.

I know, I know, we all face our mortality in our own way and any one of us could be hit by a bus tomorrow (or so I’ve been told). I get that. But for people like us, we see the grim reaper in a different way - very close and always looking for an opportunity.

What do you call a person who’s lymphoma keeps returning?

A lymphomanic!

The difference between having a chronic, incurable cancer and not having one is this strange relationship we have with our own impending doom. You see, it really does feel like living under the gallows and waiting for the ax to fall. At a certain point, you get a little giddy with the anticipation of it all.

How many chemo treatments did the cancer patient need?

Tumor.

How many of us have had near-death experiences? Truly felt that dread. Truly believed this was our last experience and somehow came through knowing it’s just around the corner again.

Eminem: his palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy.

WEB MD: Cancer.

You see there are days when I’m really down. A kind of Eeyore day when my test results are not good, the alternatives are meager and I’m staring up at the gallows again.

I’ve heard eight cancer jokes today.

If I hear another, it's gonna benign!

So please excuse me if my humor is a little off-putting. It’s one way I get to put this disease in its place. And keep it there.

What gives the most expensive haircut in the world?

Chemotherapy.

So, I’ll keep combing the internet for more belly laughs. Maybe adding a few of my own too! While cancer may not be a laughing matter, poking fun at it keeps things in perspective. At least it does for me. How about you? Is humor like this too much or is it just what the doctor ordered?

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