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Cancer is Like Improv

By Jennifer Goodman Linn

stage

I have always been a fan of improvisational comedy. I find it fascinating how teams of people can get together and create amazingly vibrant stories from each others’ ideas.  It requires a ton of preparation to be “good” at it, but when the moment comes to improv, you have no idea what the other person is going to do/say so you must adjust instantly to make the outcome a good one.

It requires teamwork, great communication skills, and a willingness to “go with it” versus resisting!

When my husband and I thought we were done with this whole “cancer thing” after my first bout with the disease in 2006, we had a “laughter is the best medicine” party.  We rented out a small improv club for all of the friends and family members who had been so supportive throughout our journey and had a troop perform for us.

I once heard a definition of improvisational comedy that has always stayed with me:  Improv closely resembles the experience of jumping off a cliff and learning to design your wings on the way down.

Kind of like cancer, no?

None of us is expecting to get this disease and when we hear that we are diagnosed, it’s not uncommon to want to jump off the nearest cliff.  Even though we might know people who have dealt with the disease, we have no direct, personal experience with it.  So, we are forced to create “our own path”  and “design our own wings” as we go.

Dealing with cancer requires all of the skills I listed above: teamwork, great listening skills, and a willingness to “go with it” versus resisting.

  • Teamwork: No one can handle this disease alone.  In addition to the teams of doctors and nurses caring for us, we have loved-ones and colleagues who become part of the equation.   We all pitch in together to manage this disease. Loved ones make meals and do errands for us, colleagues pick up the work we can’t handle and the doctorss and nurses try to make our regimen as manageable as possible.  Just like an improv troupe, we need our own group of players to get through this event.
  • Great Communication Skills: To handle the disease effectively, we need to develop effective talking and listening skills.  We need to be able to decipher the “myths” that people put in our heads versus the cold, hard facts that our medical team provides. We need to be able to directly and matter-of-factly communicate how we are feeling and what we need emotionally, physically and spiritual to make the journey an easier one. I often find that patients complain that their loved ones aren’t helping them.  Often, it’s because the patient is not telling them what they need.
  • Willingness to “Go With It” versus Resisting: We have to accept the diagnosis even if we don’t want to. It’s natural to resist at first but the sooner we “get on board” and accept the plan, the more peaceful our life becomes.  Resisting requires a ton of energy that takes us away from our healing process.  We need to be able to say “OK, I get it…here’s how I might feel with my treatments and here’s what I might experience but I am going to embrace it” in an effort to remove the cancer from my body as quickly as possible.

I have taken improvisational comedy classes on and off throughout my lifetime.  I find myself much better at the art of improv since I received my cancer diagnosis.  My ability to accept what comes my way and “work with it” has improved greatly and, as a result, I am not intimidated when something unexpected rears its head.

Now let me get back to creating a story about hot dogs and Nazis using a Country Western theme…

Photo: Hemera
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