By William Johnsson
Still dopey from the anesthesia given me before the endoscopy, I struggled to comprehend his words. He went on: “There’s a 95 percent likelihood that the cancer is a carcinoma. In that case, the only treatment will be surgery, followed by a long recuperation. The other possibility is that the cancer is a lymphoma, which can be treated without surgery. But the chance that it’s lymphoma are so slight—only 4 percent—that you can forget about that possibility. In a few days we will receive the results of the biopsy, and then we will know for certain.”
Slowly the reality of what lay ahead began to impact me. I had cancer. Impossible! I ran marathons, blood pressure 120/70, resting heart rate 45. I felt well; no way I had cancer.
A few days later on a bleak Sabbath morning, I put on boots and a heavy coat and went tramping through the snow in a park near our home. A cardinal flashed startling red in the white world. I wondered: Will I be here one year along to see another cardinal in the snow?
As I walked and talked with the Lord, a plan of attack began to crystallize. I would fight this thing with all my might. My strategy would be FEL—faith, exercise, laughter. I would keep on trusting God, come what may. I would keep walking, walking, walking until I couldn’t walk any further, until the bad guys in my gut said, “Let’s get out of here! This guy’s crazy.” And I would shame away the cancer by scorning it. No more evening news, no more downbeat books or movies, only happy endings.
As I walked and talked with the Lord, a plan of attack began to crystallize. I would fight this thing with all my might. My strategy would be FEL—faith, exercise, laughter.
The following day I shared the FEL plan with a wonderful physician friend, Dr. Peter Landless. “Add another L,” he exclaimed. “Make it FELL—faith, exercise, laughter, and Landless! I’ll be there to see you through.”
Tuesday morning, the telephone rang. The surgeon’s assistant was on the line: “I’m so sorry,” she said. “The biopsy results have just come in. You have lymphoma of the stomach.”
Lymphoma! I hung up the phone and shouted, “Praise God! Alleluia! I have lymphoma!”
For many years Reader’s Digest featured a section titled “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” It’s still true.
I grew up in a family with nine children during the years of the Great Depression. We were poor, although we didn’t think of ourselves in those terms. We laughed a lot in our home.
Dad was a big, strapping Swede. Although serious in demeanor, he loved to tell a joke. We’d sit around the long dining room table with everyone trying to get a word in, then Dad would launch into one of his favorite stories. Although we had heard them all so many times that we knew them by heart, we always stopped talking to hear them again.
He was a lousy storyteller. As the joke unfolded, he’d get more and more involved in it, and he always messed up the punchline because he was laughing so hard. We’d cry out, “What did you say?” and he’d repeat the punchline, still garbled, his body shaking with mirth.
Dad’s jokes came right out of life and at their best were weak. One of his favorites originated in a stint of jury duty. Whether he actually heard it in court, I can’t be sure. It went like this:
Judge to defendant: “Do you mean to tell me that you shot him in self-defense?”
Defendant: “No, Your Honor. I shot him in the backside as he was getting over the fence!”
Dad has long since passed to his rest, and I have my own repertoire of stories that I find funny. My family has heard them over and over.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. They pitch their tent under the starry heavens, roll out sleeping bags, and settle down for the night.
After several hours, Holmes awakens Watson. “Take a look at the sky,” he says, “then tell me what you deduce.”
Dr. Watson sees the heavens filled with stars and replies: “I deduce that somewhere amid all the heavenly bodies there must be people like us.”
“No, you fool!” snaps Sherlock Holmes. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
Weak? Maybe, but to me it’s side-splitting.
How about this one? A priest, a pastor, and a rabbi have a contest to see who is best at their job. They decide to use a bear as their subject.
The priest goes first. He comes back in a short while and says, “That was easy. I sprinkled him with Holy Water and said 10 Hail Mary’s. Soon the bear was down on his knees asking for Communion.”
Next the pastor goes out. Pretty soon he returns.
“No sweat,” he says. “I gave the bear a sermon, warned him of hellfire, and he asked to be baptized.”
The rabbi goes out. They wait and wait…and wait. At last he returns on a stretcher, scratched up and bloodied.
“What happened to you?” they shout.
“Well,” says the rabbi, “Maybe I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision!”
Want some more? Sorry, my joke box is shot.
But wait, I have croaker jokes for you. For some weird reason they crack me up. Croaker jokes derive from the original croaker joke: “I’m dying,” he croaked. After that, you get to make up your own, such as:
“You treat me like a dog,” he barked.
“You drank it all,” he whined.
Make your own croaker joke.
Laughter—free, simple gift.
Twelve years along and I’m battling lymphoma again. And some days, I’m laughing it away. I’m learning again the power of this simple gift.
From the book Simple Gifts, the new release by Oak & Acorn, now available on Amazon.com. The book is being serialized in the Recorder. See page 59 for information about how to get a pdf copy of the entire book.