Laugh Yourself Well

By Beacon Staff

This is an excerpt from a book that I am writing about how to spend your senior years living every day to its fullest:

I believe that another good way to achieve good health is humor. There have been many documented examples of patients who have laughed themselves well. Here is my experience with a friend named Andrew.

In November 2000, for the first time, I met a terminally ill cancer patient in Seattle. Andrew Epstein had been a go-for-greatness skier, and was halfway through medical school when the big “C” struck him down. That day I first met him, he was propped up in a hospital bed with a half-dozen different needles and tubes going in and out of his body. At the rate his cancer cells were consuming him, the doctors had given him just six weeks to live. During my visit, I gave him six different feature-length ski videos that I had produced. Hopefully, he could now vicariously experience some newfound freedom and perhaps laugh away some of his long lonely nights by himself in the cancer ward.

My parting comment to him was, “Andrew, when you get out of here, let’s go skiing together. But I don’t want to ski at Snoqualmie Pass. We’ll have to ski together in Montana, because I get to spend the winters there at a new private ski resort called the Yellowstone Club.”

In the rush of my complex winter travel schedule, I temporarily forgot about that hospital visit. Three months later, in late January, the phone rang in my log cabin and it was Andrew, who said, “You promised to go skiing with me, so when are we going to do it?” I was shocked to hear his voice so full of vigor and anticipation, when his doctors had predicted he would have been dead long before then.

I asked him, “Where are you calling from?”

He replied, “I’m near you in a motel down on the Gallatin Highway. How about skiing together tomorrow?”

We met early for breakfast, and it was immediately obvious that I had my hands full with this excellent skier who was supposedly terminally ill three months earlier. We had a foot of new powder snow on the mountain that morning. There were only nine other skiers at the resort that day, and we had five high-speed quad chairlifts to ride. After a half-dozen runs of cruising together in untracked powder, I turned Andrew over to the resort’s top expert skiing guide. They spent the rest of the day jumping off of the cornices at the top of the mountain into waist deep powder snow.

After the lifts shut down, and while Andrew and I had a hot cup of tea at the bottom of the mountain, I asked him, “How about dinner tonight and let’s ski again tomorrow. There’s no hurry for you to get back home, is there?”

He replied, “Let’s do it, but there is a bit of a hurry because my cancer has been in remission for almost three months now and the doctors can’t figure out why. Unfortunately, I now have a lump coming back in my shoulder and I have to get back to the Seattle Cancer Clinic and find out what’s growing inside of me this time.”

As we were saying our goodbyes the next day after another untracked powder snow day, Andrew said, “Warren, the only way I can explain the remission of my cancer for the last three months is that those ski movies of yours helped me laugh myself well, for awhile at least. Thanks a bunch for letting me ski with you.”

I never got to ski with Andrew again because cancer struck him down forever just six weeks later. But with his infectious laughter and his balder head than mine because of chemotherapy, he had given me two of the best days of skiing in my life. I was 76 years old at the time. Those two days were completely full of joy, freedom and lots of laughter for both of us.

For more of Warrens’ stories and stuff, log onto: www.Warrenmiller.net