The Laughter Project – Promoting Green Humor to Heal the Heart
Have you ever wondered who made the first pink tee shirt that prominently displayed “Save the Hooters“? I have! So much so that I went online to do a bit of research and found one website that offered 2904 different versions of pink humor attire for adults and children! I could hardly believe it!
My Grandmother Nanny and Aunt Carolyn both lost the ultimate battle with breast cancer and I dare say they never wore a shirt displaying anything even close to “Save Second Base”. I was 18-years old when Nanny passed and I thought it curious that no one in my family ever discussed “THE” cancer above the tone of an infrequent whisper. At that time, I wondered how suffering from breast cancer could be so secretive… Could you catch it from drinking out of her cup? Did you get it from having sex? Was it some sort of punishment for not wearing a supportive bra? I thought it curious that no one knew which breast was the culprit. I am not so sure why I was so interested in whether it was the right or the left breast… Wonder if my curiosity represented my earliest inclination to become a reconstructive surgeon? Vaguely, I remember my mother telling me that Nanny wanted to show her how her wound had healed and my mother was mortified… Why would any woman want another to see how disfigured she was after a mastectomy? Regrettably, my mother was unable to appreciate how comforting it would have been for Nanny just to have someone, anyone, with whom to share her scars both external and internal. The isolation must have been terrible. I had already completed my plastic surgery training when my Aunt Carolyn passed nearly 20 years later. Interestingly, nothing had changed. The whispers remained. The side remained illusive. And, she distinctly was not interested in any form of reconstruction even if her niece was a “world famous” surgeon!
I interview hundreds of cancer patients annually. My husband refers to my practice as “the land of misfit toys” as most have suffered a complication of their cancer care – painful or infected breast implants, irradiation injury with open wounds, failed perforator flaps from outside facilities and lymphedema. Most of my patients initially are anxious and distrustful of the medical community. With time and a heavy dose of tender loving care, the pink shirts emerge and the office is transformed into a Second City satellite stage but with one notable exception – lymphedema patients seldom laugh about having a water arm. No matter how beautiful the new “TaTa’s” may be, none of my lymphedema patients ever dawn a tee shirt that says “Bet Mine is Bigger Than Yours – Happily Living with Lymphedema”.
Have you ever noticed that not one celebrity in Hollywood suffering from lymphedema has come forward to be an advocate for this disorder but many come out with their personal triumphs over breast, prostate, colon and testicular cancers. Why? Because lymphedema is unfamiliar, poorly understood and physically unattractive. At our surgical hospitals, we started giving our patients tote bags for their supplies with the National Institute of Lymphology Logo on them as a means to get the word out about Proactive Care for lymphedema. It did not take long for us to discover that the patients loved having a tote bag, but did not like the logo reflecting lymphedema. Many revealed that they never used the bags after surgery and most even “forgot” to bring it with them for subsequent surgical revisions…
So, here we are – lymphedema today is akin to what breast cancer was to Nanny and Aunt Carolyn… an ugly secret, a taboo.
This year, I became involved with our “The Dr. Is In…” educational program. We are hosting 25 speaking events nationwide where we dedicate an entire day to breast and lymphatic reconstruction education for patients, loved ones and interested professionals at no cost. Of course, they are held in animal friendly hotels as my dogs Luke and Lucy commonly attend too! The afternoon session is entitled “Be SWELL with you SWELLING” and focuses on what I have coined “green humor“… At the podium, I have challenged myself to elicit laughter about lymphedema from the audience as a means to heal the hearts of my water patients. My hypothesis is that “green humor” not only can be medicinal, but can promote enhanced social awareness about this unfamiliar disorder. With such awareness, I speculate that patients will benefit from improved research funding and insurance coverage, but moreover social acceptance.
I would like to plant a seed with you here by way of introducing “The Laughter Project”. Our pink sisters have conquered the taboo of breast cancer through laughter in one generation – mine. They have brought the topic of breast cancer out into the open for all to “see”. The internet hosts images of mastectomies and all forms of reconstruction. Heightened public awareness has been made possible through open discussion and thousands of funny pink tee shirts. This in turn has resulted in public acceptance, increased basic and clinical science research funding, more aggressive annual screening guidelines, acceptance of breast conservation as a treatment modality and federally mandated insurance coverage of all forms of breast reconstruction.
I believe now is the time to help each other erase the taboo of lymphedema and put on our green humor sportswear! It is my hope that there may be a time when our daughters may review 2904 lymphedema tee shirts on the internet and speak openly and laugh together about this disorder that has been so silent to date! Perhaps you can help us design a few!
Happy to introduce you to “The Laughter Project”,
PS: You may not know this… in medical illustrations, lymph is depicted as green while arterial blood is red and venous blood is blue… so that’s how we came up with the color green! No, it wasn’t because we “recycle” body parts!
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