Is Laughter the Best Medicine? Using Humor to Heal

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

Using Humor to Heal

baby girl doing a handstand and smilingWhat makes you laugh? A funny movie, attending a comedy show, or telling jokes with friends and family members? Most people don’t think about what makes them laugh, but they know when something is funny. Humor and pediatric cancer, not words that go together like, Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, but maybe there is a connection there? The act of laughing does affect the body and can produce physical and emotional changes. Humor cannot cure cancer, but scientific research has proven that humor during the cancer journey can help heal. 

In 1999, researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, Mattel Children’s Hospital, and The Semel Neuropsychiatric Institute studied the effects of humor on the immune system of children and adolescents going through agonizing medical procedures. The results concluded that when children watched a funny or uplifting video, they could better tolerate painful medical procedures, and anxiety levels also decreased. This study eventually led to the creation of the nonprofit organization Rx Laughter, whose mission is to create “therapeutic and educational programs that use the power of comedy care to improve coping, communication and quality of life for those struggling with serious emotional and physical challenges.”

Benefits of Laughter Therapyyoung cancer patient mid laugh

Laughter Therapy has been studied and researched by many medical centers and universities across the globe since the 1960s. One area of exploration is humor’s benefits in the field of psychoneuroimmunology or the body’s ability to heal. Laughter changes brain chemistry and can boost the immune system, alter moods, reduce pain, and help alleviate stress.

Cancer in young people is tragic and often comes with pain and life-changing side effects. However, 21st-century medical advances help to increase the survival rate in children. According to the American Cancer Society, 85% of children with cancer survive five years or more. Having a skilled medical care team for a young child will increase the odds of survival. In addition, looking into simple alternative therapies can also aid in the cancer fight.

Positive Benefits of Laughter:
  • Endorphin Release-Laughter triggers the body’s natural chemicals produced by the nervous system and helps relieve pain and stress.
  • Immune System Boost-Laughter increases the immune cells by creatingInfection fighting antibodies.
  • Whole Body Relaxation-Laughter reduces physical tension in the body and aid in muscle relaxation for up to 45 minutes.
  • Increase Blood Flow-Laughter helps the heart improve blood vessel function and increases blood flow.

Laughter therapy is helpful to both the patient and caregivers. Using humor during the cancer journey can help relax the mind and body. The stress and uncertainty of being a primary caregiver increase the risk of sickness. Taking some time to simply laugh and find humor can release the anxiety of helping a young cancer patient. Finding something to laugh about together is an even better way to tackle the cancer journey. A nice benefit to laughter therapy is that it’s inexpensive and a low-risk activity with numerous benefits. Please consult with your child’s doctor; they might be aware of additional programs related to humor and laughter therapy.

Finding Humor During the Cancer Journeyyoung patient and her mom making funny faces

Cancer is no laughing matter, especially when it strikes a young child, but trying to find hope in a time of uncertainty is a positive way to cope with the challenges of the day-to-day fight. There are organizations throughout the United States, helping children fight cancer. Finding something to laugh at during this time is difficult but not impossible. One young boy’s story can offer optimism and let everybody know that it’s okay to laugh, and it’s comforting to find humor in tragedy.young patient laughing

Andrew Mercier was a young boy diagnosed with Leukemia. He loved playing practical jokes and making people laugh. While in the hospital, Andrew received a “farting unicorn” stuffed animal with a remote-controlled fart machine sewn inside. Andrew would use his unicorn to make others laugh. It was a funny way to cope with a horrible situation. Unfortunately, Andrew lost his battle with Leukemia, but his humorous legacy lives on through the nonprofit organization Andrew’s Laughing Gas. The organization provides young children with “tooting” stuffed animals so that they can find a reason to smile, laugh, and just be a kid as they fight through the disease. These photos above are of Hazel Hammersley, a Here to Serve patient family, who also lost her battle with neuroblastoma, but she found ways to laugh and smile during treatment and make others do the same.

Here to Offer Stress Relief

father and young son smilingIt would be amazing if watching SpongeBob Square Pants could cure cancer, but that will never happen. But finding humor and partaking in the simple acting of a deep belly laugh can make a person feel better. Even if this is only for a few fleeting minutes, it can help the body and mind to heal during the cancer fight. Here to Serve is also here to help during this fight. Our Care Coordinators can assist with a needs assessment so that your mental and physical strength can rejuvenate. We support by helping with finances, providing child care, and doing household chores. Our help gives you extra time to spend with your child and just be silly and have some laughs when the time is right.

By Chris Smith

About The Author

Chris Smith is a Here to Serve volunteer from the San Francisco Bay area who himself is a cancer survivor. He uses his professional experience as a technical writer to give back and provide clear and meaningful information for families with a child battling cancer.

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.