Terminal illness might be no laughing matter, but cancer patients and their family members learned tips Tuesday night for laughing their way through the stress of disease.
In a talk entitled "Laugh . for the Health of It," humor therapist Elaine Lundberg emphasized the importance of laughing often, sharing laughter and playing daily as she involved the audience in games and told funny anecdotes.
"Laughter doesn't heal or cure, but it can distract or take away your perception of pain," Lundberg said. "Play is just as important as anything else you might do in your life, especially if you're sick and under stress."
Lundberg speaks at events across the nation, a career that began when she started cracking jokes for stroke and traumatic brain injury patients and their families to relieve their stress.
She engaged the small group present Tuesday night in exercises of laughter and play, including a massage train and a game involving clown noses.
Lundberg said 30 strong belly laughs are the equivalent of 10 minutes on a rowing machine, making laughter a great stress-reducer. "When you laugh you have internal jogging - you relieve stress and burn calories," she said.
She said good stress relief is important for everyone but especially those battling illness. "People who tend to laugh and play tend to live longer," she said. "People who have joy tend to get through serious illness easier."
The talk was sponsored by GlaxoWellcome pharmaceutical company and held in UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"A positive outlook is so important for the family and the patients themselves," said Brad Burris, an executive sales representative for GlaxoWellcome and one of the event's organizers.
Vincent Joyce, a Chapel Hill resident and prostate cancer survivor, said he came to the talk after hearing about it through one of his cancer support groups. "(The talk) underscored my sense that a positive attitude is critical in everyone's attempt to fight cancer," he said. "That includes both the person afflicted and their spouses and children."
Organizers of the event said they were glad to have the opportunity to bring a perspective like Lundberg's to cancer patients and their families. "She's just a very positive person," Burris said. "Her humor is hilarious, and it's not just stand-up comedy. Her humor has a message."
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