Clowning Around: Laughter Helps Cancer Survivors Cope
KEITH BROWN/STAFF WRITER STAFF
Asbury Park Press - 7/9/03
THERE'S nothing funny about cancer.
Yet breast cancer survivor Hedda Matza-Haughton credits outrageous, multicolored wigs and big, red clown noses with helping her to win her battle with the life-threatening disease.
After her diagnosis in 1989, Matza-Haughton, would often wear a joke clown nose at regular visits to her oncologists, just to break the seriousness for a minute, she said.
"You'd be surprised how it helped," said Matza Haughton, of New York. "When you break it up like that, you connect with the doctors and suddenly you become a person, not just the bone cancer in room 406."
As part of a National Cancer Survivors Month celebration, Matza-Haughton shared her wacky antics with a group of cancer survivors and their families June 26 at Monmouth Medical Center.
If not for the underlying seriousness of her message, Matza-Haughton's free, hour-long program, "Laugh for the Health of It," might have been a raucous Halloween party as the 30 people who attended, donned silly get-ups and affected alter-egos with names like "Princess Juicy Joy," and "Olivia Operetta."
Silly, yes. But there's a method to her madness. Its what Matza-Haughton calls "complimentary medicine."
Rather than diminish the seriousness of fighting cancer, Matza-Haughton's medicinal mirth gives patients and their families another weapon to fight cancer, Matza-Haughton said.
"It was a chance for people to get out and not necessarily forget their illness, but to know that certain aspects of their lives go on," said Jill Brown, a social worker at Monmouth Medical Center. "Cancer can keep you down, but this was a way to lighten the load."
Interaction was key to the program, which was filled with group activities and discussions of strategies to relieve stress, increase energy and enhance communication.
"I try to get across to people to find a way to get some joy out of every day," Matza-Haughton said. "It can be as small as a simple smile or a back rub, but that kind of positive energy can lift you up enough to battle one more day."
And there's a method at work behind the enforced recreation too, Matza-Haughton said.
"People interact with complete strangers at the beginning. But by the end, some are talking about how they can get together again," Matza-Haughton said.
"Cancer isolates you. You may feel at times like you're the only one going through this. What I try to do is get people to talk, so they're not isolated. That, in itself, is victory."
Apart from the psychological benefits of laughter while battling a life-threatening illness, "Laugh for the Health of It," is really about regaining control, Matza-Haughton said.
"Cancer is all about losing control," she said. "We have absolutely no control over getting cancer. But we do have control over our response to it."
Keith Brown: (732) 643-4078 or firstname.lastname@example.org