My Own Silver Lining Playbook: Laughing at My Cancer as a Coping Tool

Jill Foer Hirsch, breast cancer survivor

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day on June 1, 2014, we offer this encore post from Jill Foer Hirsch, a breast cancer survivor who began writing during her treatment, and hasn’t stopped since.

I don’t take offense when people call me wacky, offbeat or different. I can’t deny that I find humor in unlikely places. But was cancer really a laughing matter?

Well sure, when it was my cancer.

Of course I was scared. Yes I held my breath waiting for the results of pathology reports and PET scans. I worried about all the things most people worry about, like how much my family and friends would worry about me, and all the unknowns.. But I didn’t use humor to cover up my feelings – I used it to wade through them.

Pity Party, Cancelled

For example, I was all set for an elaborate pity party. I had an electric blanket, satellite TV and a boatload of snacks. My cat looked at me like I was pathetic as a matter of principle, so she was my only guest. But try as I might I couldn’t go through with it.

Out of nowhere I started thinking about how cancer treatment is often likened to marching into battle, and that led me right into a visual of General Dwight D. Eisenhower sending in troops who were dragging blankies behind them, and that made me laugh out loud. What kind of pity party is it when the guest of honor is gigling all the time?

How Would “Seinfeld” Handle This?

Breaking the news was also problematic. After all, I can never handle someone else’s bad news. I panic—do I hug her, or just an arm pat? Should I tell her she’ll be fine even though I have no clue if she will be or not? Was there a “Seinfeld”that covered this? I am nothing if not the Queen of Awkward.

But now the ball was in my court and I could deliver the news in my own style. My style happened to be “I have good news and bad news; the bad news is that I have breast cancer. The good news is I’m seeing a hot plastic surgeon who keeps telling me to take my shirt off.” Not to brag, but making someone laugh while you tell them you have cancer is sheer comic genius.

None of this changed the fact that I was coping with breast cancer. Yet I can’t help but see even cancer through my prism of humor. After all, if I can’t laugh at my own cancer, what can I laugh at?

How have you used humor to cope with tough circumstances? Share in the comments section below.

Jill Foer Hirsch is a breast cancer survivor, writer and humorist. While battling breast cancer in 2010, she documented her experience on CaringBridge, and in addition to family and friends she heard from breast cancer survivors, cancer patients, and those whose lives had been touched by cancer that they found her unique sense of humor and positive outlook inspirational. Hoping to encourage and support a wider audience, Jill adapted the journal into a book, When Good Boobs Turn Bad: A Mammoir. Learn more at

Comments (3)

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Kathleen Jordan Jul 08, 2014 4:01pm
Jill, Loved your very inspirational story. Made me think of the time I had breast cancer and how I dealt with it. Friends made it easier as well as family - but your story really brought home how much laughter is needed in these situations. Thanks for sharing your story !
Danielle Calenti Jun 08, 2014 7:47pm
Just wanted to say, I think you and your post are simply brilliant. Love the bit about the hot surgeon! I wish you the best of health.
laura Jun 02, 2014 11:04am
Jill, This piece is wonderful. Humor is a wonderful way to see past a situation or reaction. I especially liked your "...if I can't laugh at my own cancer, what can I laugh at" comment. Humor is a beautiful tool that can help a lot of people get through things. Thank you for sharing your story!