To Colon Cancer Survivor, Laughter is the Best Medicine

"First of all you must have a positive attitude. Second of all you have to laugh a lot. Third of all, whatever faith you are, pray."

Irene Kovar
Irene Kovar - Stories of Hope

Colon cancer survivor Irene Kovar follows 3 pieces of advice for getting through treatment, told to her by one of her doctors: “First of all you must have a positive attitude. Second of all you have to laugh a lot. Third of all, whatever faith you are, pray.”

Kovar, a dance instructor, was age 74 when severe abdominal pain sent her to the emergency room in June 2014. After a series of tests including a CT scan and a colonoscopy, she was diagnosed with stage 3C colon cancer. Aggressive treatment included surgery to remove half of her colon and part of her small intestine, followed by 6 months of chemotherapy. Today she is in remission.

Although she has a family history of cancer – her father died from colon cancer and her mother died from pancreatic cancer – Kovar says she never thought it would happen to her.

“Now I tell everybody in my family to get themselves tested for colon cancer,” said Kovar. “The prep is the only uncomfortable part. There is nothing to fear from a colonoscopy; there is no pain. You go to sleep and you wake up and you don’t know it happened. Get it done.”

Coping with treatment

Kovar learned first-hand the benefits of laughter while she was going through chemotherapy. Her husband went with her to appointments and they brought along DVDs featuring comedy actors Carol Burnett and Bob Hope. “It kept our minds elsewhere,” said Kovar.

She also took full advantage of remedies to combat chemo side effects. She listened to advice from her cancer care team to take anti-nausea medication right away without first waiting for symptoms to start. She also had a port inserted to deliver the chemo so she didn’t have to be stuck with a needle each time. She felt well enough during treatment to continue teaching dance and singing in her choir.

Life after cancer

Today Kovar has numbness in her feet, a side effect from chemotherapy called peripheral neuropathy. But it doesn’t keep her from the dance studio. She said even though she can’t do jumps anymore, she still teaches ballet and sometimes has students come to the barre to demonstrate.

After her treatment ended, Kovar consulted with a nutritionist to make sure she eats as healthy a diet as possible. She may need a hip replacement, but doctors say she needs to wait at least another year to fully recuperate from the cancer treatment before she can have the surgery. Doctors told Kovar that after chemo, she has to check with her oncologist for all invasive medical interventions including having her teeth cleaned at the dentist’s office.

Kovar’s last CT scan showed no signs of remaining cancer, and as good as that makes her feel, she says the possibility that cancer could return is always in the back of her mind. “I think every patient thinks about recurrence,” said Kovar. “I set it aside. If I have it, I have it. God will take care of things. I have to do what I have to do. That’s my faith.”

She copes by maintaining a positive attitude, meeting with a local cancer support group, and spending time with her husband. “It’s a great thing to have a partner to share fun things to do,” said Kovar.

Her message to others facing a cancer diagnosis: “Have faith; live one day at a time; laugh a lot; stay in environments that are fun; have a positive attitude.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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