Cancer & Comedy: A Journey of Survival and Self-Discovery
“Writer, Storyteller, Cancer Survivor”; these are the words that 33-year-old Gabriel Flood uses to describe himself . Today Gabriel is a beacon of hope and a living example of courage in the face of fear, but four years ago he wouldn’t have been able to say the same thing. Four years ago, everything was going down the drain: Gabriel’s drive in the office place was quickly disappearing, and he lost sight of his self-worth and purpose when he suddenly became unemployed. Happiness was a luxury he couldn’t seem to afford, but at least he still had his health. Illness, let alone cancer, was never a thought to consider. Yet, one day while brushing his teeth, Gabriel discovered an unmistakeable and painful lump on the side of his neck. At a time when he thought life could not get any lower, a diagnosis of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) turned his life completely upside down .
Gabriel’s subtype of DLBCL was a true anomaly, especially since the average age of diagnosis is 60-65 years old. According to the Leukemia Foundation, DLBCL is a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that originates in the body’s lymph nodes and would come to quickly spread malignant B-cells throughout Gabriel’s body within a matter of weeks . Six months of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of radiation therapy and a daily routine of multiple life-saving medications became the new norm for Gabriel . As a result, his emotions quickly shifted to a fusion of grief, fear, and deep depression . Like a vulture circling overhead, cancer became an unrelenting presence in Gabriel’s life . For Gabriel, one question constantly hovered over him: Was this the end?
Cancer is one of the five most expensive diseases to treat in the nation . Yet, rising healthcare costs have not stopped the persistent increase of cancer patients from uninsured and underinsured populations . 14.5 million people living in the U.S. have been diagnosed with cancer, but one too many are forced to make healthcare decisions based on cost, rather than quality of care (3, 4). In a study by the Kaiser Foundation, 12.5% of advanced-stage cancer patients deny medical treatment because of the cost while 25% of cancer patients or their families admitted to draining their savings to pay for necessary healthcare services .
Unemployed with limited resources, Gabriel was living in a paradox where the decision between death or a lifetime of debt was a real one . Not only was he responsible for the cost of his hospital treatments and standard healthcare services, but he was also responsible for vital Lovenox injections twice a day . The cost of one Lovenox injection is $90, which can accumulate to over $65,000 in one year; that was Gabriel’s cost to just stay alive . How was Gabriel going to win his fight against cancer when the burden of financial debt was weighing heavily on his shoulders?
To reclaim power in a seemingly powerless situation, Gabriel manifested his natural ability to make people laugh and his talent as a writer to not only uplift his day-to-day conversations and interactions with hospital staff, but to also share his story with people around the world in light-hearted and comedic blog posts . In fact, the motto that Gabriel lived by was, “to rise above despair, you have to be able to laugh at yourself” . This simple idea created a seamless domino-effect that completely transformed his entire hospital experience, one joke at a time . In an effort to regain control of his own journey to survival, Gabriel unintentionally became the light at the end of the tunnel for so many other people going through similar life battles. In fact, his conscious decision to laugh and to help other people laugh each day created a positive, “self-sustaining feedback loop” that ultimately gave Gabriel deeper insight into his greatest strengths .
From Gabriel’s perspective, the ability to funnel terror into humor undoubtedly saved his life . He came to realize that people reflect what you give them, so in order to receive the best care possible, he embodied the care, joy, and compassion that he wanted others to emit around him. A collective network of nurses, social workers, and doctors had an important part in his road to remission, so he simply decided to start paving the way. This daily mission gave Gabriel a newfound sense of purpose, while also proving that words have the power to not only heal the soul, but to also heal the body.
Today, Gabriel is going four years strong without any trace of cancer and continues to guide others on how to laugh through life’s hurdles: 1) Create your own purpose and choose to use it as a source of power, 2) Use your thoughts and words with intention, because there’s power in everything you do (no matter how big or small), 3) Harvest positivity and hold onto hope with humor . To overcome the painful and often unexpected mountains in life, it helps to reflect in ourselves the light that we wish to receive from others. In doing so, we might just find ourselves going beyond survival and toward a greater journey of self-discovery.
Leukemia Foundation. (2017). Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Retrieved from http://www.leukaemia.org.au/blood-cancers/lymphomas/non-hodgkin-lymphoma-nhl/diffuse-large-b-cell-lymphoma
Flood, Gabriel. “Gabriel Flood: On the topics of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and life after cancer.” Grounds: Virginia Journal of Bioethics, 13 Feb. 2017, Bryan Hall, Charlottesville, VA. Guest Speaker.
Sollitto, Marlow. (2016). Cancer Patients: Going Broke to Stay Alive. Aging Care. Retrieved from https://www.agingcare.com/articles/why-cancer-patients-cannot-afford-treatment -139136.htm
National Cancer Institute. (14 Mar. 2016). Cancer Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics