Why Humor Is Important in Life With Cystic Fibrosis

A columnist recalls the moment he let his guard down and embraced humor

William Ryan avatar

by William Ryan |

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I remember the first time I was funny — the year was 2010 and I was 17.

I know what you’re thinking: “Will, how come it took you 17 years to be funny? How does that even make sense?” For many years of my life, I was way too serious and self-concerned. I had built up a wall to protect myself after years of bullying. I couldn’t let my guard down.

I was a funny child, but being a funny child means looking a little stupid because you don’t know any better. If I had to describe my brand of humor before that moment in 2010, I would say it was incredibly dark, to the point that often only I found something funny. Or perhaps I would make a wisecrack that, in hindsight, made me look like a hypocrite.

Anyway, that day I walked into a makeshift conference room at a retreat I was on, and our leader, who I now realize was trying to break me out of my shell, said, “You know, we’re talking about funny things and here you are, humorless.” Which made me chuckle a bit, but I hid my face until I had sat down. Then I looked at him and said, in the driest possible tone, “Yeah, I know.” The whole room burst into laughter.

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Over the years, I learned to let my guard down and embrace and expand my sense of humor. When talking about cystic fibrosis (CF), or any type of illness, it’s a very fine line to walk between laughing with someone or at them. It’s OK to mess up once in a while, because everyone’s line regarding what’s funny about their struggle is different. Some may not even find the subject funny. As long as the offender is apologetic and the offended is civil in expressing their feelings, we can all learn and grow from the experience.

It took about a year and a half of doing stand-up comedy for it to dawn on me that I should do jokes about living with cystic fibrosis, how it affected my life, and my perception of the world around me. I thought I was breaking new ground but have since learned of other comics with CF. Sadly, we’ll never all be able to tour together like the “Kings of Comedy.”

Ultimately, humor is important to me because of how levelheaded it keeps me. Most comedians aren’t levelheaded, but it works for me. I could easily get depressed about having a terminal illness and dwell on the sorrow of possibly dying young. But I remember the time a student doctor incorrectly drew blood from me and it shot out everywhere, which makes me laugh.

Don’t be afraid to embrace humor. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine. Well, maybe after CF modulators, but you get the gist.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Anthony M Palmiero avatar

Anthony M Palmiero

Good job Will. Love Tony

Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

You're tugging at my heartstrings again there, Will. But you're so right about having that sense of humor to soften situations - for yourself and whoever you're talking to. I've had those moments in my life myself and you're also right about there being that "fine line". Anyway, another article well written. Sincerely, with Love, Helen


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