Friday, December 16, 2016

Laughter Therapy

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” – E. E. Cummings

A&K Sisters (Diane Miner and MaMa La Verne)
Laughter therapy uses the gift of humor to counter stress. It is learning how to laugh at things in your life that don’t seem funny at the time. Being diagnosed with cancer and the passage that follows is a stressful situation. I decided early on in my cancer journey that I could either use my limited energy to cry about it (which is acceptable and necessary every once in a while)… or I could heal myself and promote my wellbeing through comedy.

Even in my “horizontal days” – the days I did not have the energy to do anything – I watched comedy movie marathons lying on the sofa without guilt. I was listening to my body and it needed rest. I was listening to my mind and heart and they needed joy.

When I reached clinical complete remission January 2015, I decided I would do something out of my comfort zone. I signed up for a class on how to write jokes at out local arts center. There I was… the only female in a roomful of 20- and 30-somethings. It made me feel like I was back working with my university graduate students – something I missed terribly, since I had to leave my professorship shortly after I was diagnosed, because of the fatigue and side effects. Most of my jokes centered on my husband Carl, who I refer to as “Coach” in my act. I have been married to the man for over 40 years, so I had plenty of material.

Next session was the stand-up delivery class. I showed up and I was the only person from the joke-writing class to move on. The rest of the “students” were stand-up comedians who had performed in public before. Some were even headliners at the comedy clubs. Oh, brother! I wondered if I had made a BIG mistake. Now granted, I had lectured in front of hundreds of university students, but the students had to be there or they would flunk. LOL. This was different.

Then the leader “Creepy Guy” asked me to go up to the mic, introduce myself, and say something funny. The first thing that went through my head was that I was going to flunk this class!

But I am not a quitter, so I slowly walked up to the mic. “Hello, I’m MaMa La Verne and I’m a virgin [long pause and confused looks on their faces] … of comedy. Everyone laughed. I was rather surprised. So I guess it was going to be okay.

I wrote my jokes for my first show and rehearsed in front of Coach. He said to me, ”Are you planning on making people laugh?”

“Well, of course,” I said.

“Well, you are going to have to turn it up a notch!” he advised.

“But most of the jokes are about YOU!” I said.

My husband responded, “I don’t care. Just make them laugh.” Coach is my inspiration and one of the finest men I know.

I had gotten to know several of the female stand-up comedians at the center. One was Diane. In our after-class conversations I shared with her my cancer diagnosis. She shared with me the death of her husband of 48 years and the cancer journey of her 20-year-old son. We bonded.

So I performed in a series of three class clowns acts at the arts center, when it struck me: Who needs laughter therapy the most? Cancer patients! So I formed a group: The A&K Sisters (Alive & Kickin’). The only problem was that I was the group.

A few months later Diane came up to me after class and was a little shaken. “The doctor says I have multiple myeloma!” I blurted out, “Oh, good! Then you can be my partner and we can do stand-up comedy for cancer survivors!” At first she looked confused. And then she gave me a big smile. She said that was the strangest response she had ever gotten.

So Diane and I have performed at the Improv for a room of about 200 cancer survivors, caregivers, and donors. We performed at the Virginia Piper Cancer Center in Scottsdale several times, and we will be performing for about 100 women in February at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix for a non-profit called Face-in-the-Mirror ( These pro bono stand-up comedy performances are gifts of love and gratitude for those who did not choose to go on the Big-C journey. This is our volunteer work in our soup kitchen.

MaMa La Verne: Hope is the word: Spread the laughter, heal the soul.
Diane: In the end what matters most is how well you live,
MaMa La Verne: how well you love,
Diane: how well you learn to let go,
MaMa La Verne: how much you laugh
MaMa La Verne & Diane: and how hard you kick cancer’s ass!

Pass it on…

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