Howard Feldman

On pancreatic cancer and other laughable matters

2018-06-27 12:35
Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009 from pancreatic cancer.

Patrick Swayze, who died in 2009 from pancreatic cancer.

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There is a segment on my daily breakfast show called "On this day in history". As the name suggests, we take a look at exciting and significant events that might have occurred on that day.

As a rule, I remove all references to American sports, because listeners honestly don't care, as well as references to dates around space exploration. Because I honestly don't care.

This morning there was a reference to David Hasselhoff who, on June 26, 2002, apparently checked into the Betty Ford Centre for the treatment of alcoholism. The segment should have ended there but I couldn't help wondering out loud which one was David Hasselhoff, and which was Patrick Swayze.

I knew that the one was Knight Rider and the other was a Dirty Dancer but for the life of me I could not remember who which was.

What complicated matters was that radio stations across Gauteng this morning had WhatsApp issues, so listeners were less able to assist me than they normally would. It turned out they could send an SMS at a cost of R1.50 but the sheer extravagance of that cost eliminated it as an option and discouraged some of our listeners.

Consequently, I was pretty much on my own. At some point during my ramblings I remembered that either Hasselhoff or Swayze had died, and that if my long-term memory served me correctly, he had died from pancreatic cancer. I was astounded at my own brilliance and asked my co-host to google the hell out it to see if I was right.

I was!

In joy and in celebration of my astounding gift of recall, we might have metaphorically high fived each other and basked in the glory of the moment. Swayze was the one from Dirty Dancing and he was dead. From pancreatic cancer!

It was around then that a few listeners overcame their resistance to the R1.50 cost to SMS us. Hilda was first out of the blocks with a message that read, "Is that funny?? To die of pancreatic cancer?? Please stop the inane giggling! Give us better conversation! So disappointed! Hilda."

I was devastated. Hilda wasn't even angry. She was just disappointed! And she had used a lot of punctuation to prove it. Worse, she was not only disappointed in me but also in the radio station – who, to be fair, had done nothing to contribute to this shameful behaviour (aside from having me host the show, I guess).

I might have reacted poorly to Hilda's SMS (charged at R1.50) and asked her why she was so miserable. I might have pondered what had put her into the state she was in and even possibly suggested that it could not be easy being her.

It wasn't mature of me. But she started it.

As an alternative and if I was a bigger person than I am, I might have apologised, explained that I was not jesting at pancreatic cancer in any way, and might even have explained that my mother had died from this monster of an illness just over a year ago. If anyone knows and understands the horror of the illness, it is my family. It rocked our world in the worst way possible.

But I didn't explain that. And this is why.

Each of us has a story. Each of us has experienced pain and loss and each of us has suffered. There are very few who have not. There is also a great chance that some of us are currently going through hardships and that some are walking the nightmarish journey of either having illness or supporting someone who does.

Each of us deals with this adversity in different ways.

There is an old Jewish phrase, a "bittere gelechte", which translates directly to a "sad or painful joke". Another colloquial expression might be "we laugh through the tears", meaning that we recognise just how pitiful and sorrowful the situation might be, but we choose to use humour as a coping mechanism.

The two weeks before my mother died we had an experience exactly like this. We laughed and we cried, often not being able to distinguish which was which. Much like my dilemma with Swayze and Hasselhoff. It was our way of coping. And whereas I accept that some people might handle things differently, this was what worked for us and this is what helped us bumble through each day.

I firmly believe that humour allows us to hold the mirror a little closer to ourselves and assists us in dealing with difficulties that would otherwise just seem to be too big to handle. No one thinks that pancreatic cancer is funny. I certainly do not. But it doesn't mean it's not okay to laugh about it.

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the afternoon drive show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    david hasselhoff  |  cancer  |  humour

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