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I have had a busy year. Three surgeries, two of them major, one of them minor and a little procedure in-between. But that’s what has to happen when you get a cancer diagnosis. Bowel cancer to be specific. ‘Hang on a damn-blasted minute!’ I hear you say, (and thanks for watching your language). ‘This article is in the humour section, what’s funny or even mildly humorous about a deadly disease?’
I’m glad you asked. You see, as a comedian it’s my job to seek out the funny side of things and even something as serious as cancer has a funny side, you just have to look a little bit harder for it. In fact, the more serious something is, the funnier it can potentially be. And I’m not talking about sacred cows here; I’m just talking about truths. Many comedians will go to “dark” places and talk about the horrors that organised religion has inflicted upon people or the unspeakable acts of inhumanity human beings have inflicted upon each other behind the closed doors of Concentration Camps or Copper Face Jacks.
Personally, I don’t find these sorts of topics very funny. I’m not saying they can’t be funny, I just don’t see the humour in them myself and any time I’ve heard a comedian use them in a set it will be as a punch line to a joke, pretty much what I did in the last paragraph. The problem for me is that these are not commonly shared experiences. I don’t know a lot of people who were Jewish during the Second World War, none actually in my circle of friends and acquaintances now that I think about it and Copper Face Jacks is a Dublin specific reference that the rest of the country doesn’t get. To put it simply, I can’t relate.
But cancer is something that the majority of people can relate to because the majority of people have been affected by it in some way. So how do you deal with it?
When I was diagnosed I decided upon two coping mechanisms. The first was to remain as ignorant as possible about the disease itself. Now this is not a method for everybody. Some people want to know everything they can about it and will read the books and the other books that explain the books you just read. All I knew was that it’s the second most popular cancer there is, by which I mean it’s very common. This is good. Well, it’s admittedly not great but it means that the medical professionals know a lot about it and it is very treatable. I decided to ignore the details as I read somewhere that you can get bogged down in those and I didn’t want to put on my metaphorical wellington boots. And why should I learn all about it anyway? I’m not in medical school! I reasoned, like a child, that there was a bad thing inside of me and the doctor was going to take it out and I wouldn’t have a tummy ache any more.
The second coping mechanism I decided upon was to not take any of it seriously. To make a joke of it and from it. This was difficult at times as it got more serious and I struggled to find the funny.
The most serious stage came with the aforementioned “procedure”. They had to perform a biopsy on lymph nodes to check if they had “gone bad” (it was obviously more complicated than that but remember that I’m thinking like a child) and if they had then my days would have been numbered. I have always found that to be a silly expression because, if you think about it, calendars are nothing but numbered days.
The biopsy procedure is rather odd. You are awake for the entire ordeal. Firstly, they perform an ultrasound to determine a route to the lymph nodes, I quickly made a “don’t tell me the sex, we want it to be a surprise” joke to which the response was a mild laugh. They probably hear that all the time.
‘Come on Ed,’ I thought, ‘You’re funnier than that.’ This was not a good start. Then comes a series of deep injections into my belly to numb it for the large needle that would be pushed down inside to obtain a sample from the nodes. The surgeon would push it down a little of the way and then her and the nurses would go into the other room as I slid back into the CT scanner and they would check its progress on the screen. Then they would all come out again and readjust it and shove it down deeper and go back into the room to check the monitor again and this continued until I began to feel like a stop motion puppet.
‘I’ll bet Wallace and Gromit never had to deal with this shit,’ I thought to myself. ‘Well, actually, Wallace would be of an age now where this would be an issue for him and his diet is terrible, he only seems to eat various cheeses.’
This train of thought was interrupted by an uncomfortable feeling. I grunted quietly. The surgeon asked if I was in any pain. I scratched the side of my nose and said ‘No, just an itch, you can carry on shoving a large needle into my body.’
‘We’re nearly there,’ she smiled.
Moments later the biopsy was complete and as I was wheeled out of the room I put my hand on the shoulder of the male nurse who was just there to observe and said, ‘I know you didn’t do anything but your presence in the room was very comforting.’ He laughed and thanked me.
‘Not a bad gig,’ I thought. ‘Slow start but got them on my side in the end.’