Mind & Body

beating cancer and tips to get through hard times

Off the back of his second battle with cancer, Aussie comedian Michael Shafar explains how laughter gets him through.

Comedian Michael Shafar has beaten cancer twice, including undergoing high-dose chemotherapy for a testicular cancer relapse during Melbourne’s recent lockdown.

Ahead of his new comedy show, 110%, he explains why there’s no better medicine (except, maybe chemotherapy) than laughter and the three important questions you should ask yourself to help see the funny side of things when life gets tough.

“It’s not good news” is a sentence you don’t really want to hear from your doctor. In July last year I’d gone in for a routine CT scan. I’d been in remission from testicular cancer for almost two years, and my oncologist was pretty confident that I’d been cured after six months of gruelling chemotherapy and five rounds of surgery. But, I got unlucky.

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The scan showed that I had a mass growing in my abdomen (which is where the cancer had spread to back in 2017) and so began another four months of chemo.

My treatment coincided with Melbourne’s second lockdown, so I guess I had a tougher time than most. Well, maybe not the parents who had to homeschool their kids. Objectively, that’s worse than getting cancer.

When you get cancer your attitude is: “I’m going to beat this, I’m going to live through this,” but when you have to teach Jayden algebra your attitude is: “Kill me now. Please end the suffering.”

If you’re going to get cancer, I think being a comedian helps. My view has always been that any topic can be funny. Plus, people say some hilarious things when you get cancer.

When I told a friend of mine, he said, “Oh, so do you have to call up your previous sexual partners?” which is obviously a ridiculous question. I’m not going to call up all the women I’ve slept with and say, “Hi, you might want to get your balls checked.”

Sure, it would just be the one phone call, but still, it would be pretty embarrassing.

While it’s definitely not always easy to do, laughing at adversity makes hardship seem manageable and a whole lot less scary. People always say to me, “Michael, it’s great to talk about this, because laughter is the best medicine.” Personally, I found chemotherapy to be more effective. But, I do agree with the sentiment.

As a Jewish person, I think resilience is very much ingrained in my culture. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and somehow managed to get through five years in Auschwitz. I thought about him a lot going through my treatment, especially on the days when I couldn’t get out of bed or even open my eyes because I was so fatigued and nauseous. If he could get through something so much worse, surely I could get through this crap.

During one of my many nights in hospital a nurse came in to check my vital signs. She hooked me up to the pulse monitor and after an awkward pause said: “Hmm… That’s strange. The machine isn’t picking up a pulse. I guess it’s broken.”

To which I said, “I hope so.” She laughed and I laughed. It meant a lot to me – I’ve always felt validated by other people’s laughter. For that brief moment I wasn’t just a fragile, sick cancer patient, I was still myself.

For a lot of people, the last 12 months have been the hardest of their lives. I know they certainly have been for me. But I really believe that nothing can ever truly beat you if you’re able to laugh at it.

Here are the three questions I’d recommend asking yourself to see the funny side of things when life gets tough:

1. Does this matter?

I always like to ask myself this question when something bad happens. Will it matter in a week from now? A month? A year? If the answer is no, it’s probably not that serious and you can totally laugh at it.

2. Have you been through anything worse?

If the bad thing you’re experiencing isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, it’s probably going to sort itself out soon. My advice is to remember all the worse stuff you’ve been through and that will help you laugh at your current predicament for thinking it can bring you down.

3. What are the positives of this bad event?

Even if something is really bad, there’s got to be at least something good to come out of it. I lost a testicle, but now I finally feel comfortable in skinny jeans! Every cloud has a silver lining, and every lost testicle frees up room around the crotch of your pants.

You can catch Michael at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival until 18 April, then at the Sydney Comedy Festival 29-30 April and in Brisbane on 13 May. Head to www.michaelshafar.com/shows for details.

Michael is also supporting Australian and New Zealand Urogenital and Prostate (ANZUP)’s Below the Belt #yourway challenge and will be working closely with ANZUP over the coming months to raise awareness. To take part in the virtual challenge, visit: https://www.belowthebelt.org.au/