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Everyone Copes Differently. This Woman Named Her Tumor and Created a Comic

Living Well

February 07, 2024

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Photography by Alicia Brown/Stocksy United

Photography by Alicia Brown/Stocksy United

by Stefanie Remson

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Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

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by Stefanie Remson

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Medically Reviewed by:

Megan Soliman, MD

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Humor has health benefits and can help you cope with chronic illness. However, it can be a way to avoid coping, too. Be sure to get support from other outlets and talk with a professional if needed.

What’s so funny about chronic illness? Nothing! Not a single second of living with chronic illness is funny.

But sometimes the overwhelming grief, fear, and pain require a different approach.

Humor can be a powerful tool for coping for some — especially if you’re living with a chronic illness.

Read on to learn about the artist who uses humor to navigate her breast cancer journey.

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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

Meet Ursula, the artist who made a comic about cancer

Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, is a best-selling author and artist who wrote a comic about her journey with breast cancer called The Saga of Bob. Bob is the name she gave to her tumor.

Ursula uses humor as a coping mechanism by turning it into a funny story.

“A story is something I can cope with,” she says.

Ursula shares many humorous details of her breast cancer journey in her work, including the awkward communication between her and medical staff. She also considers it a win if she makes the technician or doctor laugh too.

Ursula recalls that during chemotherapy, she found pink cancer ribbons to be constant reminders of her cancer.

“While I was in the middle of chemo, it really annoyed me,” she says. “It was like I couldn’t get away from having cancer.”

So she put it in her comic.

“I’d be at the grocery store thinking about dinner and wham, pink ribbon at the checkout. It was like ‘HI REMEMBER YOU HAVE CANCER, HUH, HUH, REMEMBER?!’” she says. “I don’t want to leave little pink minefields around the house.”

Turning frustrations like this into fodder for her art is what helps Ursula get through it all.

“Humor is my coping mechanism, so the worse things get, the more jokes I make,” she says. “I don’t know if there are atheists in foxholes, but there are definitely comedians.”

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Humor is for everyone

In a 2020 survey of 199 people undergoing radiotherapy, humor played a major role in coping.

Almost all respondents (86%) said it was “somewhat” or “very” important for healthcare professionals to use appropriate humor, and 61% of respondents said it was important “frequently” or “always” when dealing with their individual cancers.

Interestingly, 79% said that humor decreased anxiety, and 86% said that laughing was considered “somewhat” or “very” important.

Approximately 4% of respondents even listed “sense of humor” as being the most important quality they looked for in their interactions with their treatment team.

Medical humor I keep in my back pocket

As a family nurse practitioner, I’ve cared for thousands of people with breast cancer over nearly two decades. I’ve learned you don’t have to be an artist, author, or comedian to find humor in the cancer experience.

These are a few of my favorite bits of humor and positivity I’ve encountered over the years:

  • Mammogramming your breasts is more important than Instagramming them.
  • If you have a mastectomy bra and are in an intimate encounter, ask your partner, “Do you want my boobs on or off?” just to spice things up a bit.
  • If it’s true that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ then I should be able to bench press a semi-truck at this point.
  • The most unexpected side effect of breast cancer is my new low threshold for bull****.
  • Why are there never any good side effects to medications? For once, I would like to see ‘may cause extreme sexiness.’
  • Losing your hair from chemotherapy means you have one less thing to style in the morning. Also, wigs can be fun. You can completely change your look, and even your name, based on your hair for the day! “Today, call me Samantha! Tomorrow, I’ll be Jennifer!”

Why humor is healing

While it’s important to approach humor with sensitivity, it can provide so many benefits when it comes to living with breast cancer.

Stress relief

Humor can relieve stress. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins and serotonin, which are the body’s natural feel-good hormones. Laughing can help relieve stress and promote an overall sense of well-being.

One 2018 study concluded that laughter reduces blood pressure and heart rate while increasing serum serotonin (the happy hormone) and decreasing chromogranin (a marker of psychological stress).

A 2020 study of mostly female college students showed that laughter buffered stress in everyday life, with higher frequencies of laughter resulting in fewer stress symptoms after stressful situations.

Distraction

Humor is an effective distraction from the challenges and worries that go along with living with breast cancer.

It can give you a break from ruminating over stressors and a fresh perspective for looking at things differently.

Social connection

Sharing humor with friends and family can foster a sense of connection with others. Laughing together can strengthen bonds and create a supportive environment.

Humor can help you cope with difficult situations and also connect with people, according to the American Cancer Society.

Positive mindset

Humor can help you maintain a positive mindset, especially when it’s needed the most, like when you’re dealing with a chronic illness.

Humor can provide perspective and help you build resilience, too.

Coping mechanism

Some people use humor as a coping mechanism. Some people even take their own humor and use it to empower and inspire others going through similar situations, like Ursula.

On the other hand, humor can become a way to avoid coping. In this case, it’s important to seek support from a qualified mental health professional.

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Takeaway

Humor can provide an outlet for fears, frustrations, and grief during treatment. It may even have health benefits. However, humor can’t replace medical care and support from professionals, support groups, and loved ones.

When used with sensitivity and care, it’s a great addition to a whole-person approach to the treatment of chronic illness.

Medically reviewed on February 07, 2024

4 Sources


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About the author

Stefanie Remson

Ms. Stefanie Remson MSN, APRN, FNP-BC is the CEO and founder of RheumatoidArthritisCoach.com. She is a family nurse practitioner and is a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient herself. She has spent her entire life serving the community as a healthcare professional and has refused to let RA slow her down. She has worked with The Arthritis Foundation, The Lupus Foundation of America, Healthline, Grace and Able, Arthritis Life, Musculo, Aila, and HopeX. You can learn more at her website and on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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