Finding Humor in Cancer

Brianna Miller is a 22-year-old from Southern California who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma shortly before her 21st birthday. She is a patient at CHOC Children’s. In this five-part series, she takes readers along on her look back at her journey with cancer.

If there’s one thing I’ve come to know more intimately over the last year than I did before, is that cancer makes people uncomfortable. I completely understand. It can be hard to know the right things to say, the best way to react to bad news, and how best be supportive. Along with all the bad things that accompany cancer, however, there are a lot of things that happen and you can’t help but laugh. I want people to know that it’s completely okay to find humor in cancer!

When I was first coming to grips with the impending side effects of chemo, I found that an effective way to ease my anxiety was making jokes to help make light of my situation. I’ve always been easygoing, and this developed into a sense of humor during treatment. If we’re being honest, going from having long hair to being completely bald is shocking but also can be funny! I kept hair ties on my wrist even after I had no hair and would reach for the brush just out of habit. I would often make jokes about being bald, and my friends would always redirect and reassure me that my hair would grow back. Of course, I knew that my hair would grow back, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t have a little joke at my own expense in the meantime! Now that my hair has started to grow back, it looks kind of funky- I like to call it my “baby Orangutan” look. I know it looks funny, so someone reassuring me that it doesn’t really just makes me internally cringe. I understand the impulse to make someone feel better, but if I’m lucky, I’ll only have to do this whole cancer thing once in my life- might as well make it interesting while I do!

Of course, it’s never okay to make fun of a cancer patient’s trials or downplay their experience, but to consistently only talk to a patient about their experience in a serious tone can be quite frankly boring and frustrating. I’ve found so many great, sarcastic memes and apparel from other members in a Hodgkin lymphoma support group on Facebook and through other groups like Stupid Cancer, and they never fail to bring a smile to my face. My personal favorite was my Halloween costume last year, Charlie Brown. I figured I might as well take advantage of the baldness while I had it!

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I think it’s important for people to realize that if a cancer patient is making light of their situation or making jokes, it’s perfectly okay for them to join in too! Sometimes long hospital stays or hard chemo days can be bleak and tiring, and bringing humor into the situation can help immensely. You have to do what is best for you.

Learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children's

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What it’s Like to be Treated at a Children’s Hospital as a Young Adult

Brianna Miller is a 22-year-old from Southern California who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma shortly before her 21st birthday. She is a patient at CHOC Children’s. In this five-part series, she takes readers along on her look back at her journey with cancer.

Being diagnosed with cancer right before I turned 21, I was pretty surprised when we drove up to CHOC Children’s for an initial meeting with my oncologist. I asked my parents why we were going to a children’s hospital. In my mind, I figure that once you turned 18 and were legally considered an adult that you would have aged out of pediatrics as well. I remember sitting in the waiting room, surrounded mostly by young children, and feeling completely out of place. There were cartoons playing on the TV, tiny chairs in the waiting room and cartoon characters on the walls in the treatment rooms. I hadn’t been to my pediatrician since I left for college, so it all seemed like a flashback to when I was a child, and not like somewhere that someone my age would be treated.

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Bri Miller, a 22-year-old CHOC Children’s patient, was surprised when her treatment plan included a children’s hospital.

As unusual as it seemed at first, now that I’m done with treatment I have to admit that I 100 percent would not want to be treated anywhere other than CHOC. The decorations of little cartoon characters in the rooms at the clinic and the Disney movies always playing in the waiting rooms seem so much more bright and welcoming compared to the drab white walls and sterile waiting rooms of the non-pediatric doctors’ offices I’ve visited. During my inpatient stays, there was always something exciting happening in the hospital to encourage me to get out of my bed and take a little walk around. Oncology Prom, festivals in the second-floor lobby, special visitors in Seacrest Studios were all incentives to get out of bed and get moving. The nurses at CHOC would become more than just my caretakers; they became my friends. Since quite a few of them are fairly close to my own age, there was always something that we had in common and something to talk about.

The Adolescent and Young Adult program at CHOC is really such an amazing resource within the child life department. For my first round of chemotherapy, I had to be admitted to the hospital, and that weekend happened to be the same weekend of CHOC Prom, which was such a fun experience. Going to the dress selection and primp events and meeting former patients who are now in remission was so encouraging. Even though I was just beginning my treatment at that time, I could see how they had all gone back to having normal lives and how they’re so positively dealing with the lingering side effects of treatment. It was and still is encouraging to me, knowing that when I return to college, although it will be more challenging than before, I will be able to tackle life the same way that they have.

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After the primp event, Bri models the gown she chose to wear to the 2018 Oncology Prom.

One of my favorite parts of being treated at a children’s hospital is the other patients- the actual children. Although I am a secondary education major, I’ve always appreciated the genuine optimism and happy demeanor that young children possess. Regardless of the trials that these young oncology patients were facing, it always lifted my spirits to see them because more often than not they were toddling through the halls with the biggest smiles on their faces. In the same way that meeting former AYA patients made me excited for life after cancer, the little kids that I met or simply saw during treatment encouraged me to power through treatment. If a two-year-old or a six-year-old can go through treatment with a smile on their face, what excuse do I have to not try and make the best out of what I’ve been given?

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Brianna shares a group hug with members of her CHOC fan club, including registered nurses and child life specialists.

Receiving my treatment for cancer at a children’s hospital has enabled me to be more positive about the whole experience. Having wonderful doctors, nurses, and an incredible AYA support team has made these past six months easier and much more comforting than I ever could’ve imagined at the beginning.

Learn more about AYA at CHOC

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Confidence and Cancer: How Cancer Changed the Way I Think

Brianna Miller is a 22-year-old from Southern California who was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma shortly before her 21st birthday. She is a patient at CHOC Children’s. In this series, she takes readers along on her look back at her journey with cancer.

At my university, I am a member of the Kappa Delta sorority. One of the initiatives that most important to our sorority is the Confidence Coalition, which is exactly what it sounds like- a movement to help build confidence in girls and women. Something that drew me to this group of women during sorority recruitment was this platform of confidence because it is truly alarming the number of women who struggle with self-image, starting at such an early age. I wanted to be part of what the amazing things they were doing at the local and national level, to help women realize their worth and cultivate a healthy and positive self-image. Little did I know how much my own attitude towards confidence would change just a few years later when I was diagnosed with cancer just before my 21st birthday.

My own personal attitude towards confidence certainly changed the minute I was diagnosed with cancer. Everyone has their own personal insecurities, and even before I was diagnosed with cancer there were things I wished I could’ve changed about myself. When I was diagnosed, I immediately felt as if these insecurities were magnified because I knew that I would soon undergo some physical changes, which can be a side-effect of chemotherapy. The thought of losing my hair scared me, even more so than the actual disease that was trying to kill me because my hair was something I could see, and I couldn’t see my cancer. The hardest I ever cried during treatment was the first time I took a shower and clumps of my hair started coming out in my hands.

Cancer treatment can cause many other physical changes besides losing your hair. For me, chemo caused fatigue and completely changed my eating habits, meaning I was less active but also eating less. I’ve lost quite a bit of muscle mass and a fair amount of weight because of this. Different central line placements have left me with a few new scars. A few months after I started to lose my hair, my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out as well. These physical changes have caused me to reevaluate my own idea of confidence and the role beauty standards play in my life. Looking back, I realize that my relationships before I had cancer were based on vanity. Because of this, a fair amount of my own confidence stemmed from validation from others, which became an unhealthy cycle.

Physical changes from chemo have allowed me to flip this script, and I’ve found that my own intrinsic sense of confidence has actually increased. I had no say in getting cancer, and no say in the side effects that come with chemo, but I have the biggest gift in that I get to choose how to respond to it. Once my hair started falling out, I decided to shave it rather than prolong the inevitable. It was one of the toughest things I’ve done, but once it was over, I felt an immediate sense of relief, and I was happy that it happened on my own terms. When I go out in public, I do so with a bald head. People always stare, but as cliché as it sounds, to me it is just a physical representation of my strength. I’ve gone through a lot more than most people will endure in their whole lifetime, and it just so happens that there are some physical reminders that come with it.

Hair will eventually grow back, and scars will fade, but the personal growth I’ve made will stay with me for the rest of my life. I always felt a connection to my sorority’s platform of confidence, but it wasn’t until my own confidence was essentially shattered and rebuilt that I truly understood the importance of confidence and self-image in a woman’s life.

Learn more about the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children's

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