To laugh or cry? When morbid humour works a charm

Lara Noik, a social worker and breast cancer survivor, shares why she chose to laugh and cry during her cancer treatment.


October 2020 I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer; a particularly aggressive subtype. I was staring down the barrel of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. This was serious. No laughing matter at all. More like a crying one. And indeed, that is what I did. 

I cried when I got the diagnosis. I cried when I had to tell my parents. I cried when I was too sick to plan my daughter’s birthday. When I had to give up working and as I lay on my bed for days at a time, wondering if I would ever be ‘me’ again. I cried. Sometimes small lady-like tears. But more often than not, big-ugly tears. This was to be expected, right? 

The start of small giggles

But there was another part of the journey that turned out to be a bit more of a surprise, a part that was perhaps less expected. It started with small comments, such as, “I’m so sorry about your news. Please keep me abreast of the situation.” My reaction, a small giggle. I couldn’t help it! 

Then when my husband sat in the waiting room, holding my hand, waiting for my first chemo session. I knew how hard this was for him. My rock. He looked uncomfortable, almost in pain. As he put his hand on his heart and opened his mouth, I waited to hear his heart-felt, soothing, inspiring words. Imagine my surprise when he blurted out, “I think I have heartburn. Must be the curry last night.” Oops! Not quite what I was expecting. 

I had moments of giggling even as I sat watching the drugs seep into my body, and as you all know, chemotherapy is certainly not funny. Not at all. 

Roars of laughter

Losing my hair was another emotional point in time. But when my 11-year-old took one look at me and piped up, “Mom, it doesn’t look that bad, it would be much worse to see you in a bikini”, the laughter roared through my house. 

These incidents were followed by much more laughter, the morbid kind, some may say. Not always appropriate (mostly not) but always light and fun, reminding me of who I used to be, who still lay inside me, who I could still be. Something familiar, something unexpected, something full of life. Something healing.

Healing humour

What is it about laughter that is so therapeutic, so life-affirming, and, in my opinion, such a helpful part of a cancer journey or any journey into and beyond the abyss? Viktor Frankl, the famous psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor and creator of logotherapy said, “Humour, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” 

It’s humour and laughter that allows us to transcend, just for a while, from whatever the pain is that we are feeling. For those few moments, we are free from our given reality; we could be anyone, anywhere, doing anything.

Over the past few years there has been much research into the positive effects of laughter on our emotional well-being, such an improvement in mood, stress levels and personal satisfaction. More recently, research has even indicated incredible effects on our physiological health as well. There are even claims that it improves our immune system.

I must put in a small disclaimer; laughter can also be used to deflect. To avoid, to escape and to hide. This is not the healing laughter of which I write; the laughter that helps us to accept, to acknowledge and to embrace. 

Laugh and cry

I’ve always believed in good mood therapy, the ability to laugh as we cry, mourn, and heal. What I didn’t realise is what a big part this would play through my journey. To laugh or cry? How about to laugh and cry? Because sometimes, it’s only through our most painful experiences that we get to be our full human selves. Cancer is a serious matter. But life itself, is definitely worth a good laugh once in a while. Don’t you think?

Lara Noik is a social worker in private practice and a cancer survivor. She has a special interest in the fields of mental health, resilience, and relationship work. She believes 
in the innate resilience that exists within each human being and spends her time counselling individuals, couples, and groups from this standpoint.

MEET THE EXPERT – Lara Noik

Lara Noik is a social worker in private practice and a cancer survivor. She has a special interest in the fields of mental health, resilience, and relationship work. She believes in the innate resilience that exists within each human being and spends her time counselling individuals, couples, and groups from this standpoint.


Header image by Adocbe Stock

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