Letting Laughter in During Your Breast Cancer Journey

PJ Hamel Health Guide
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    Yup, that’s right, it was a shutout at my house the other night. Two dozen friends gathered for an evening of entertainment, not-quite-seniors style: a singalong. With dinner. And we had a blast.

    Now listen up, all you under-40s reading these words: someday this will be you. The oldest person at the party was 82; the youngest was 50 (I’m 54, one of the youngsters.) But, despite any impressions you have about “old people” or senior citizens, retirees, golden-agers, whatever you want to call this group of Boomers+, it was hardly a sedate gathering. The place was rocking. (Or, as we said back in the day, the joint was jumping.) Guitars, harmonica, banjo, piano, a percussion section, and lots of lusty singing. At one point I would have worried about the neighbors calling the police, except for the fact that the six college hockey players next door don’t even begin THEIR parties till after midnight.

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    As I looked around at this group, friends for better than 15 years, I realized that just by dint of our long lives, we have a cumulative burden of sorrows that might astonish someone young, a 20-something who hasn’t yet gone down the hard road. Most of us no longer have our parents, so dying has become a familiar specter, something intimate rather than theoretical. Divorce and estrangement, loss of jobs, deaths of friends and siblings… pain has touched us all. Five of us have cancer. And all of us have suffered along with our grownup children as they fight their own battles: illness, death, loss of jobs… the pain magnified tenfold because it’s your child, not you.

    Yet here we all were on an icy winter night, happy to be with one another and ready to let go of our problems, if only for an evening. The wine flowed, the food was plentiful, and the music reached out and pulled us together, familiar oldies taking us back to a first kiss, a drive-in movie, a wedding dance. We relived the ’60s, protest marches, Vietnam, all of the social turbulence that shaped so many of us in this massive Boomer generation. And I’m sure many of us looked at ourselves and thought, what happened? How did the girl with flowers in her hair become this silver-haired old woman? When did the boy playing electric guitar in his high school rock band turn into a distinguished retired physician? Where did the time go?

    This isn’t a simple “those were the days” reminiscence. My point is this: all of us experience sorrow in our lives. Friends at our party have a daughter with a 3-week-old son. The woman’s husband—the baby’s dad—is in the hospital, dying of cancer. Betty told me that her daughter was distraught, wondering how there could be a God who would let such terrible things happen; no one has the definitive answer for that oft-asked question.

    But I know this: sorrow comes to us all. It may thunder in on the heels of a broken relationship, or settle around you like fog as you slog through a dead-end job. It may knock on your door after an iffy mammogram, then abruptly shoulder its way through when the biopsy results come in.


  • But sorrow doesn’t have to take up full-time residence in your heart. So long as you’re alive, there’s room for joy, too. For laughter… and for love. Sorrow can be buried, if only for an evening, in the midst of friends, good food, sweet memories, and remembered songs.

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Published On: February 28, 2008