My name is Hannah Doty and when I was 8-years-old (back in good old 1998) I was diagnosed with Burkett’s Lymphoma. Although I did not have cancer as an adult (knock on wood), I find that it still affects me/plays a part in my life even after being cancer-free for 20 years. I currently live in Los Angeles, California and am a writer/actor as well as the founder of V.I.P. Hospital Productions, an organization that makes customized activity books to help pediatric patients communicate with medical staff.
One of the things people often don’t realize from the outside is that when you’re sick with cancer, you don’t remember that time of your life as the “cancer times.” Life doesn’t pause while you have cancer and then pick up again later; so naturally there are fun, light-hearted, “normal life” moments that happen all through that journey.
After all we aren’t “cancer-people” we are just people.
There are the deliberate “finding the funny” moments I remember: like making a hospital joke book that consisted of jokes about how slow the hospital elevator was as well as this gem: “What do doctors and the energizer bunny have in common?
Answer: They ask the same question over and over and over and over and over….”
Or how much fun I had becoming a pro at balancing books on my bald head.
But there are also moments that probably weren’t funny at the time but as an adult I now think are funny — like the time my mom couldn’t figure out how to unplug my IV pole from the wall in time and I peed all over the floor. Or the fact that I had a “nurse punching bag” that I had created due to my hatred of nurses that made home visits to “torture” me.
As a survivor, even though my cancer diagnosis happened two decades ago, I still often find myself in humorous situations surrounding it. Being a “cancer survivor” means navigating the outside expectations, assumptions and fervor that that label attracts. I have ventured through the land of online dating where someone found out I was a cancer survivor and messaged me to tell me I had “an incredible story” and that he was “swooning”…. but didn’t even read my profile. (If you’re reading this, that’s why I swiped left, Ryan).
I have been on business calls where an individual asked in a pitying voice if the product I was talking about was “something I came up with in treatment.” I have been to the doctor's office for a routine check-up where they marveled at my scars and seems transfixed by my past cancer diagnosis while I waited for them to snap out of it so I could get answers about birth control, a sore throat, or something else completely non-cancer related.
Since “cancer-survivor” will always be a part of my identity, I have tried to not only embrace these moments but find creative inspiration as well.
For example writing/producing/starring in a comedy sketch called “A Cancer Survivor gets an AWESOME surprise!!!," which consists of a cancer survivor being bombarded by a unyielding singing telegram serenading her with “Cancer Jams.”
For me, the way I have always dealt with stressful situations or things that are out of my control are to take my own form of creative control. One of the perks of having cancer is getting to poke fun at it and process unique parts of that experience in a way that others may not see. I would encourage everyone to write/create/interpretive dance/basket
weave/etc. if to help process your experience in your own fun/silly/”YOU” way and create your own special meaning! After all, the whole cancer journey can sure bring with it a lot of comedic material!