My name is Danielle Parpounas-Rosen and I live in New York with my husband, Michael, and our beloved special needs cats, Spider-Man and Olive. I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer when I was 29. I had a double mastectomy, followed by egg retrieval. I shaved my head the night before my 30th birthday and completed 16 rounds of chemo. As I approach my 31st birthday, I will continue to receive infusions to combat my HER2+ status and additional phases of breast reconstruction.
I wanted to keep my breast cancer a secret. I would tell only those closest to me, work through surgeries and chemo and turn the other way when I saw a pink ribbon. Cancer would not be allowed to consume me. This was my plan. That is, until I realized that this disease had screamed its declaration of war. So I changed my strategy and armed myself with determination, optimism and a sense of humor. We know that cancer isn’t funny, but encouraging laughter comes from kindness, and kindness can change everything.
I knew that I wanted the social media reveal of my diagnosis to support my campaign of laughter; this post would set the tone and encourage those closest to me to laugh with me. The post was a video clip of Sex and the City’s Samantha struggling to deliver an inspirational speech despite heavily sweating. She tells the crowd that “If you want to see the face of breast cancer, look around you.” She follows this command with examples of everyday women, but overcome with the weight of her hot flashes, she strayed from the speech, tore the wig off her head and said, “Oh f*ck it, she’s me.” Looks like I’m more of a Samantha than a Carrie.
In the spring, I went to a breast cancer summit with my mom, the OG breast cancer survivor of my family. I stood in a long silent line for the restroom with other summit attendees. Very quickly, the silence began to rot into awkwardness so I said, “I guess this is the one place I can’t use cancer card to cut the line.” Laughter broke the silence and it wasn’t just breast cancer that united us, but the appreciation of humor.
I wish I could say that my sense of humor was a mastered skill; that it was timed appropriately and delivered to the correct audience. At a work event with my new boss, I planned to drink only one glass of wine very slowly in efforts to retain a filter and not say anything I may regret. However, five months of chemo reduces your tolerance to alcohol and although my brain was shouting “Don’t say it! Don’t say it!” I, of course, said it. “So, I need another surgery because my implants are flipping.” This wasn’t said to be funny, and he certainly didn’t laugh, but I laugh at myself when I think of it. If I don’t laugh at myself then I’ll be angry, and that isn’t kind to me.
Through this battle, I’ve had my moments of fear, anger and sadness, but finding humor has been monumental to myself and my supporters. Once you start laughing, you start healing.