Humor Out of Cancer (Of All Places)

Humor Out of Cancer (Of All Places)

by Jeff Neurman

I am a six-year survivor of incurable leukemia, diagnosed during a routine physical just after I turned 40. Some people erroneously (or at least grossly over-optimistically) refer to my cancer as the “good” cancer, ignoring the fact that “good” and “cancer” are antonyms. And even if this sentiment were remotely accurate, when you are diagnosed at a young age (40 is the new 25, after all), the prognosis is definitively less “good.”  

When I got my diagnosis, I must admit that I did not believe cancer was a good fit for me. My personality and general outlook on life are not exactly compatible with having such a disease. Although I wouldn’t characterize myself as a pessimist, I think I can be most appropriately described as a realist, which is of course how pessimists refer to themselves in their (rare) optimistic moments. Realists are those who are all too aware of the trials and tribulations that life, even under the best of circumstances, presents. And cancer is certainly not the best of circumstances. Thus, as a realist with cancer, I have become ever more aware of the problems of life. 

In light of all this, it has come as the greatest of surprises to me that – despite myself – I’ve been able to find humor in my ongoing struggle with my misbehaving bone marrow. It is this ability to make others (and sometimes myself) laugh in the face of this challenge that has given me the ability to surmount the hurdles cancer has set in my path. 

Now, I won’t go as far as to say that laughter is the best medicine. I find that the chemo drugs dripping into my veins are much more effective than a good chuckle when it comes to killing off unwanted lymphocytes. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, there is nothing in the least bit funny about cancer. But being able to laugh has helped me to stabilize the chaos otherwise swirling around me. 

Now, I won’t go as far as to say that laughter is the best medicine… But being able to laugh has helped me to stabilize the chaos otherwise swirling around me.

Writing humorously about all I’ve undergone and continue to experience has helped me avoid the sometimes-overwhelming essence of cancer and the treatments for it. More specifically, my ability to poke fun at so much of what is frustrating about dealing with cancer – the tests, the procedures, the doctor’s visits, the well-meaning but clod-like friends and family, the poking and the prodding, and most poignantly, the unknown and unknowable – has provided me with a sense of control in a mostly uncontrollable situation. By seeing the humor in my situation, I’m able to put my mind often at ease, and while not exactly enjoying the experience, I can at least feel as though something positive is coming from all this suffering. 

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By finding humor in the events and oddities I’ve faced during this struggle with cancer, I have been able to make the enormous small and the unmanageable manageable. Viewing my often shocking and ludicrous experiences – all of which are well within a standard deviation or two of what passes for the norms of modern medicine – through the prism of humor has helped me immeasurably to feel not so alone with my cancer. And to get a good laugh out of it in the process.

Jeff Neurman is a 46-year-old chronic lymphocytic leukemia survivor and a reforming lawyer who blogs about his experiences with cancer at

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2019.

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