Leanna was diagnosed with Stage 2b, triple positive, invasive breast cancer in April 2018, at age 28. She was at the end of her fellowship in physical therapy, and still managed to finish all her classes and achieve recognition as a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists, all while starting her journey to kick breast cancer’s butt. She and her husband, Brad, have now been married just over a year (so much for the honeymoon phase), and live together in Chicago with their two cats, Bo and Wrigley.
Brad, in addition to working full time as a director at a start-up digital marketing agency, has also found the time to excel in improv comedy classes. He’ll certainly be drawing on this bizarre experience during his stage time. He has worked hard to support both Leanna and himself throughout this journey, and is thankful for the positivity his friends and family have shown.
So just to start - cancer freaking sucks. There’s nothing funny about it. That being said, neither of us would have survived without the ability to find humor in our day to day. Cancer can take a lot from you - your hair, your energy, your faith, your vacation time, etc, but it will only take your happiness and joy if you let it. So we’re going to tell you the story of some of the times that we took back from cancer.
Leanna’s hair started falling out about two weeks after her first round of chemo. We knew it was going to happen, but we were still dreading the moment that we had to shave it. Brad made a convincing argument that this was our chance to go borderline Britney 2007, and that morphed into Leanna having a mohawk for the first (and we hope only) time in her life.
We also gave the “I’d like to speak to your manager” look a try, but her personality didn’t quite fit with that one. Once we got past the tears, we couldn’t help but laugh at the realization that she did not miss her calling as a punk rock chick. The photo evidence is enough to remind us that we will never try to pull off those looks ever again.
Chemo is awful, but was made tolerable by our antics, particularly on the days when we remembered to bring Cards Against Humanity. Have you ever tried to match up, “What would grandma find disturbing, but oddly charming?” with “Harry Potter erotica” without bursting out into laughter and offending all the other people in your chemo pod? We have, and sorry we’re not sorry about that. When you’re laughing so hard that the nurses have to come check on you, you know you’re doing it right.
That’s another thing - the nurses. They’re incredible, yet they see so much devastation and disappointment. If you can bring them into your laughter, do it. Bring cookies, funny hats, bad jokes, and cards, and remember that they need some love and laughter too.
Another moment we’ll never forget was when my teenage sister came to a chemo round with us. Somehow that ended up being the day my mother tried to learn how to “dab." Let’s just say we’ve got blackmail video for the next lifetime.
The last major step we’ve gone through was surgery. It was a long day, but everyone involved came through with flying colors. Leanna was so happy to be done, and to be told her lymph nodes were negative, that she accepted a challenge from her physical therapy friends to do squats and lunges in her hospital room. That was only after she ate a giant plate of pasta for dinner, however the meds were still going strong, and when she couldn’t remember the word “sauce,” she exclaimed that she’d spilled “noodle juice” on herself. We laughed at all of that for a good long while. The next day, Leanna was in good spirits, but her mom was exhausted and had fallen asleep in the hospital bed, causing transport to mistake her for the patient - this led to another good round of laughter.
While we’ve shown indeed that humor can beat cancer, none of these silver linings are possible without support. It truly does take a village, so never hesitate to ask for help in any way that you may need it: physical, mental, financial, what have you. Humor is best shared with others, and while you may not know what battles people around you are fighting, everyone can come together with a smile. Laughter is a universal language, don’t be afraid to speak it.