Cancer Survivor says laughter makes for good medicine

June 06, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Being diagnosed with cancer is no laughing matter, but it is no reason to stop laughing, according to someone who knows, cancer survivor and author Lynn Eib.

Eib, the author of "When God and Cancer Meet," read some curious entries from patient charts during a speech she gave Sunday at the annual National Cancer Survivors' Day luncheon at King Street United Brethren Church.

"The patient has pain if lying on her side for more than a year," one doctor wrote. Another wrote that his patient was "numb from the toes down," while another chart read that the patient was "X-rated and sent home."


Eib, of Spring Grove, Pa., was a newspaper reporter doing a story on a cancer survivors' group in 1990 when she walked past a room where patients were receiving chemotherapy and wondered why they were laughing. One month later, she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

"I am not laughing while I'm in here," Eib remembered telling herself when she began chemotherapy. Nevertheless, with the help of a nurse and other patients, she found there were things to laugh about, even for a 36-year-old woman with three children who was facing a potentially lethal disease.

"We don't laugh because we're happy. We're happy because we laugh," Eib told the group of cancer survivors and their family and friends. "Every time I laughed, it reminded me I was still alive."

For example, she discovered she was being treated with one drug originally developed to de-worm sheep and dogs.

"I could have gone to the vet and gotten it a lot, lot cheaper," she said.

About 220 people attended the event, according to Shendelle Clapper, social worker with Summit Cancer Service in Chambersburg, which coordinated the event.

Eib recalled one woman at a cancer survivors prayer group who went into extensive and rather personal detail about regrowing hair after chemotherapy.

"Do you have any on your chest yet?" a male member asked, putting an end to the monologue.

Laughter has medicinal value, according to Eib. It can raise the heart rate - "internal jogging" she called it - lower blood pressure and help the body produce antibodies that fight disease.

Laughter is good medicine, but other survivors said faith helped them through their ordeal.

Nancy Russo of Chambersburg said she was diagnosed with lung cancer 26 years ago. A Catholic, she said two Protestant ministers laid hands on her and prayed before her surgery.

When they were done, she recalled a "woodsy, piney smell" that she figured was one of the minister's after shave. The aroma returned, however, as she went into surgery or when she dwelled on her health problems, giving her a sense of peace.

"There is a higher power," she said.

"I can thank the dear Lord above ... He had the biggest hand in everything," said Mid Carter of Chambersburg, who just passed the five-year mark since her diagnosis.

Paula Peck, who works at Chambersburg Hospital, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2003 and learned last year it had spread to her lungs. With 14-year-old son Zach by her side, she said she has a lot to live for, but undergoing chemotherapy every other week is not easy.

"It's bad, but it could be worse," said Peck, who continues to work.

Some of those attending the event were diagnosed within the past few weeks or months, but many of the survivors have lived for decades, including one woman who said her diagnosis occurred 48 years ago.

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