My name is Emma, 25, and I am from London and was diagnosed with stage 1/ grade 3 breast cancer on Dec. 13 2017. After seven cycles of chemotherapy, four immunotherapy infusions and a bilateral mastectomy with immediate implant reconstruction, I have no evidence of disease. I still have a year of Perception sub-cut injections and five to 10 years of hormone therapy. I use dark self-deprecating humour to deal with the tragedy that is my life on @emlouiii (instagram) and www.talkingforfreedom.wordpress.com.
Three weeks before I was diagnosed, my ma passed away from metastatic breast cancer.
It had spread to her brain, making her confused and act strangely. A few days before she died, she told me to fuck off and tried to punch me in the face while I fed her. My Auntie started laughing so I gave her a WTF look and she replied, "You can either laugh or cry."
My family and I had said it before, but finally I understood it. I took that sentiment with us into my diagnosis and treatment. Most people wouldn’t understand how that could happen.
Laughter and cancer don’t appear compatible; one wouldn’t set them up on a blind date together.
I’ve always had a terribly dark sense of humour full of self-deprecation and expletives. Thus, my own misfortune is a huge source of laughter. It was my experience with cancer that fully unleashed it onto the world.
To form relationships with my medical team while we made decisions about treatment, my
knee-jerk response was to bring some jest to life but initially I held myself back. It didn’t seem right to make fun of having cancer.
That changed when I began watching RuPaul’s Drag Race before starting chemotherapy. Seeing comedic queens, like Jinkx Monsoon, Trixie Mattel and Katya, showed me that I shouldn’t keep my mouth shut. Season six winner Bianca Del Rio was the main source of inspiration behind me dropping the last filter on my humour and to not be afraid of make jokes or laugh about my tragic life. Let’s face it, my ma was dead and I was on chemo for breast cancer -- humour was all I had.
You’d be surprised by how much comedy can be found in cancer.
Looking like a dalmatian as my hair fell out or a penis when it did.
One night, my cousin asked whether I’d still date while on treatment. I replied, "Yeh sure, I’ll write on my Bumble profile 'My ma is dead and I’ve got cancer but it’s not all bad -- I have a dog'” because what bloke doesn’t want that girl?!’
While waiting to speak to a fertility specialist, one of my auntie’s broke the silence by asking in pure shock, "What would you do if they gave you the wrong egg and you had the wrong baby?" I replied, "Call The Jeremy Kyle Show" (the British Maury).
In my family, we say that on the day I am told I have no evidence of disease, I’ll end up getting knocked down by a car and die outside the cancer centre.
Then there’s chemo brain! At first, it left me frustrated being unable to hold conversations, think clearly, forget the simplest of things and sink into a good book. After some time, I realised how much comedic gold it was producing so I embraced it. How could it not be funny once you get over the initial shock and horror? One day I forgot my own name while on the phone to the GP receptionist. I told her it was Cher.
Some might find it improper to laugh about cancer, but it was my cancer, my misfortune and my trauma so don’t tell me how to deal with it. If that makes me tasteless, then let’s change my middle name to "Inappropriate."
Humour helped me to deal with everything that was happening without feeling overwhelmed. It was a way for me to navigate my emotions and express how I felt. Injecting comedy into the experience, kept me sane.
What is it about laughing at my own pain? Am I a sadist? Debatable. Does it stem from my minuscule self-esteem? Definitely. But it allows me to see something beyond all the negativity that comes from life. It offered a relief from everything and when you have cancer, you deserve a break from the solemnity of hospitals, side effects and medical jargon.
Many people don’t know how to take it when I make cancer jokes. They do that weird "I want to laugh but I don’t know if I should help me" face. I understand the apprehension because sorrow isn’t something that is generally associated with comedy. In some ways, I think my dark humour has helped my family to cope too. My friends and family, taking my lead, know that they can laugh and join in with the self-roasting. They don’t have to tiptoe around me or feel like they can’t be happy.
Even on the days when I am worn out, it helps to find laughter and feel it. The pain is redirected into something positive. It reminds me that underneath the pain, there is hope.