I’m a comedian and a two-time cancer survivor, and I make people laugh about my experiences with the disease until their faces hurt. Unusual job, true; but my mission is to convince people that laughter is as important to physical and mental health as eating right and exercising. And if you or a loved one is touched by cancer or another serious condition, it’s not only okay but your duty to laugh—otherwise you’re not doing everything you can to get better. When I was diagnosed, the daughter I was raising by myself was only four, so I was extremely motivated to do everything in my power to fight the disease. If the doctors had told me that getting naked and howling at the moon might help save my life, I’d have been praying for warm nights.

Coincidentally, I was first diagnosed around the time Norman Cousins made headlines with his groundbreaking research into the healing power of laughter. The medical experts had told him to get his affairs in order because he had only months to live. He baffled and stunned them all when he literally laughed a deadly disease into remission and lived another decade. He was living proof of the quip, “He who laughs, lasts.” Numerous studies since have proven that laughter releases healing chemicals in the body, and negative emotions—depression, anger, etc.—activate harmful ones.

So when I was diagnosed, I figured I’d be the dumbest comedian on earth if I didn’t stay positive and get as many laughs as possible. I joked through both of my ordeals because I thought it was the smart, practical, and definitely the most fun thing to do. I frankly can’t think of a single situation where having a negative attitude and no sense of humor is the smart thing to do. There were so many arguments against being depressed and miserable that I decided to spread some Tumor Humor instead, and the rewards have been incalculable.

One day when I was throwing up, a nurse asked how I was doing.
“Well, I’ve puked up about everything,” I croaked, “but I think I found my class ring.”

Her exuberant giggles were like a shot of morphine to me. Suddenly I was the caregiver, lightening her burden, and my reward was feeling better for a few precious minutes.

Comedians get criticized for doing “below the belt” humor, but that’s where The Beast attacked me. When my doctor told me I would have to lose a testicle, I told him I wanted a second opinion before I relinquished one of my personal favorite organs: “I’ve gotten attached over the years.” He chuckled and said, “Keep that attitude—it’s going to help.”

The day before the operation, he asked me if I wanted him to install a plastic prosthesis so I would look the same. That struck me as a set-up for a joke. The same to whom? “Of course, doc,” I said. “I don’t want this to affect my modeling career,” and he snickered. He obviously wasn’t used to being entertained by his patients. His usually-stony face nearly cracked every time I made him giggle, so it was particularly satisfying.

The radiation saved my life, and I don’t care that it sterilized me. I had already fathered the most beautiful daughter in the world, so I tell my audiences that “I got the crop in before I lost the farm!”

I figured I had had my cancer experience and was home free. So imagine my surprise when three years ago I had a routine eye exam and a malignant melanoma was found on the back of my eyeball. My surgeon knew my history and laughed when I said, “Gee, Doc, I’m having no luck at all with these round organs.”

He sewed a radioactive button on the back of my eyeball—I lost most of the vision in my right eye—and I was quarantined from my family for a week, giving me plenty of quiet time to come up with some zingers. When he removed the button eight days later, he asked me how my week had been. “It was kind of fun being Radioactive Man,” I said. “I could glare a Birdseye frozen dinner into a hot meal in 30 seconds.” He tittered. “My X-ray vision only seemed to work on the mailman, which was disappointing.” He chuckled. “But I found if I stared at the dog long enough, I could make her butt itch, a lot of fun.” He guffawed and said the treatment obviously hadn’t diminished my sense of humor.

“No,” I said. “Not bad for a guy who’s half blind and half nuts.”

He laughed again, and it felt good to give something back to the man who had saved my life.

Even if your life isn’t touched by cancer, laughter should be part of your regular therapy. Don’t think you’re funny? No worries. Even professional funny people get inspiration from all kinds of sources. Keep your eyes open. Jot down TV monologue jokes that make you laugh, Reader’s Digest anecdotes, email funnies, things your kids or others have said. Laughing—and making others laugh—will make you feel better; and everyone you touch will be grateful for your precious gift. And don’t be too disappointed if a joke is met with silence and a quizzical look. Comedians miss the target all the time. Just remember: Falling on your face is still moving forward.

Author's Bio: 

Mack Dryden is a comedian/actor/writer who has appeared on numerous TV shows, including The Tonight Show with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, and was a staff writer for Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. As a motivational humorist, he brings hope, inspiration and howls of laughter to thousands every year, and speaks at numerous cancer survival celebrations. Get a laugh, a video excerpt, and contact info at mackdryden.com .