Confronting Cancer with Humor with Aviva Wachs

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Many find it hard to find time to laugh in the face of serious illness. Humor has stress relieving properties that benefit the soul and the body. Aviva Wachs will discuss how humor has helped her deal with cancer and how it can help others.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Event_Moderator Aviva Wachs is a graduate of New York University with a Masters in Psychology from Antioch University. She is currently in private practice in Beverly Hills as a marriage and family therapist Intern under the license of Jonathan Flier MFT. She was diagnosed with stage 3-b lung cancer that had spread to her lymph system. She is cofounder of Humor Heals, a workshop that facilitates a person's sense of humor and the absurd in the face of tragedy or trauma.

Aviva, welcome to WebMD Live.

Wachs_Speaker Thank you very much!

Wachs_Speaker I guess I just wanted to add to the bio that in being diagnosed with cancer myself I was really asked to walk the walk of my own business and to find out that there was a tremendous release in using humor to deal with the trauma of cancer.

Event_Moderator When did you find comedy as somewhat of a treatment?

Wachs_Speaker Well, I had, for years been an improviser, improv comedy, director, teacher, and performer in LA and NY and when I went into psychology it was with the intention of using humor as a therapeutic tool. And, having that in place when I was diagnosed, set the stage. There's a tremendous amount of absurdity in cancer!

Event_Moderator How did you get involved with Humor Heals?

Wachs_Speaker I co-founded Humor Heals with my partner Robin, who was also in the entertainment business as a producer of comedy and we both saw something quite healing in people's stories about their tragedy and triumph over it. When we saw Julia Sweeney who did 'God said 'ha!'' or Louie Anderson, it peaked our interest.

Event_Moderator What comedians work with Humor Heals? Have you ever done standup? Where can someone find information about Humor Heals?

Wachs_Speaker We have a phone number: 310 712-3980 and email is humorheals@aol.com.

Event_Moderator Are there any other organizations that are similar to Humor Heals?

Wachs_Speaker You know, none that I know of.

There's a tremendous amount of press around "distraction humor", which is clowns working with kids or .. after "Patch Adams" there was stuff with Norman Cousins healing himself with Marx Brothers movies.

As far as I know, Humor Heals is the only group work done with internally produced humor; it's only dependent on the person and their own sense of what's funny.

Event_Moderator What are the benefits of Humor when faced with a critical disease like cancer?

Wachs_Speaker I can tell you from my own experience with my own cancer. You know, when you become faced with something with such upheaval attached to it, you can feel out of control or helpless and hopeless. The one thing I felt like I did have control of was my attitude and it was very empowering to take a step back and look at some of the absurdity of my any given day interactions with the medical field and the alternative medicine field. It helped me to not feel quite so helpless. If I give an example, it'll be clearer.

When, after it was discovered that I had tumors in my chest and lungs, but they didn't know what it was, I went to one doctor who had good credentials and came highly recommended. He told me with utter conviction that it was lymphoma that spread to my lungs. The next day I had a second opinion with a reputable doctor who told me that it was lung cancer that spread to the lymphs. The absurdity of both of these doctors with complete belief in what we were saying. I turned to them and said, "Are you sure it's not anal fissures?" They had something the complete opposite of each other! That made me feel better, cause it located the power back to me and away from the doctors who were basically talking out of their asses. It was based on their opinion! Neither one of them had opened me up and looked to see what it was.

Event_Moderator What is the difference between a victim and a survivor?

Wachs_Speaker Wow. It's difficult for me to answer that because I feel like if I say what makes a survivor, I don't feel comfortable saying that. I feel there's a difference between feeling empowered and unempowered and it has to do with being able to step back and have perspective of any kind. And, when I ask people to talk about what's absurd and funny about what's going on with them, it's asking them to step back and get perspective. I think there's something empowering about doing that.