Cancer: Confronting Cancer with Humor (cont.)

Event_Moderator Were you able to work while going through treatment?

Wachs_Speaker Yes. I cut back drastically and felt like my work was equally as important in my treatment, as was my chemo, radiation, acupuncture, meditation and nutrition. It helped me keep in touch with the fact that I was more than just someone who was struggling with cancer.

Event_Moderator Do you recommend traditional or alternative medical practices?

Wachs_Speaker I believe that it's a highly individual decision and what I think makes the most sense is for the person to gather as much information as possible about their options. They will know what works for them and what doesn't. There's been too many cases of people who have done only traditional and some survive and some don't; the same odds are with alternative. It's a matter of what I chose to believe in; it might as well have been sterile water. If I believed in that, I believe it would have worked.

Event_Moderator How can a cancer patient best handle the side effects of treatment?

Wachs_Speaker In terms of humor, there's really nothing more horrible and humorous than all the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. So, I think there's a certain amount of mitigation that happens when you can laugh at yourself.

Also, there are things that western medicine has to offer in terms of mitigating side effects. Deepak Chopra's books talk about what you can do and Bernie Siegel's books, too. I personally relied heavily on my acupuncturist, nutritionist, and people who gave me herbs and supplements to help mitigate side effects.

Event_Moderator There have been studies that laughter can activate your immune system. What do you feel about those studies?

Wachs_Speaker Yes. I think that ... I believe it for a number of reasons. When you laugh, on a physiological basis, you draw more oxygen into your body and that can only be good. Your pulse changes, your breathing changes, your outlook changes, and a certain amount of endorphins are released, so there've been studies about pain relief from laughter as well. I physically experienced that too. When I was laughing, I was in a lot less pain.

Event_Moderator What typical intimacy problems do cancer patients suffer from?

Wachs_Speaker It's interesting because I think that people talk a lot about how badly they feel about how their cancer is impacting on their loved ones; certainly in terms of intimacy, as well as a whole host of other impacts. Again, we do a lot of talking about the details about that and what exactly becomes difficult and how have you found ways to circumvent the difficulty. But, it takes the stigma away when things get talked about. The therapist in me wants to say that those are great moments for more intimacy when you talk about the difficulty, but the humorist in me wants to say it's great fodder because sex talk leads to laughter inevitably.

Event_Moderator What advice can you give to people who have lost loved ones to cancer?

Wachs_Speaker I actually have not worked with people who have lost loved ones. I know that there are a lot of support groups for that. I would think there are probably stages to that and that a place for finding the humor or absurdity might be a later stage when someone has lost a loved one. It's a very individual thing. I haven't had personal experience in dealing with that.

Event_Moderator The movie "Man in the Moon" has sparked interest in Andy Kaufman and how he passed away from a rare form of lung cancer. Has his fight with cancer inspired the comedic community in any way?

Wachs_Speaker In general, no. We really try to stick with people's personal experiences and what is going on in their lives because when you start comparing with someone else, especially a celebrity, it can do more damage than good. Whereas, if it's someone's personal experience, they can take that away and deal with it for the rest of their lives. They don't have to be inspired by a celebrity or rent a movie.

Event_Moderator What medical breakthroughs in cancer research have occurred as of late?

Wachs_Speaker There are so many cancers and so much research. I know there's a lot of debate going on about the actual causalities or sources of cancer, but chemotherapy is constantly changing and growing and there's a large push away from it. But, not being an oncologist, I hesitate to say more than that.

Event_Moderator What is the status of America's current healthcare system?

Wachs_Speaker (laughs!!) (laughs more!!) Oh, I .... having been locked into an HMO situation myself, I find it horrific and hope that there will be changes. BUT, one of the great things about being locked into a horrible situation is it forced me to find my own resources and stand up in a way that I don't know that I would have if it had been different. This is not to say that it's a good system, I think it's problematic, difficult, expensive, and fear-based, and I hope it will one day change.

Event_Moderator What do you hope it would change to?

Wachs_Speaker I would hope that I would have had access to more doctors. I had to go out-of-pocket to get opinions from people who weren't on my particular referral list of doctors. I also really wish that the acupuncture and the Chinese herbs had been covered and they're simply not covered with my plan (alternative treatments).