I Use Humor as Part of My Coping Strategy with IPF

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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Learning to cope with a chronic illness is an ongoing process — and never easy.

My entire world was flipped upside down when I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in April 2016. I didn’t know anything about interstitial lung diseases and felt bitter that I had to suddenly consider my lung health in every aspect of my life as a young adult. It felt unfair, frustrating, and exhausting to be forced to adapt my life to navigating the progression of the disease.

I was told that in a few years, I’d likely need to use supplemental oxygen and would struggle to climb stairs.

I wrote a column last year about feeling like two different people with this disease. Sometimes my life feels out of control, while at other times, I feel that I am coping reasonably well. However, the coping strategies that I’ve developed don’t always work, and I have to remain open to trying other things.

Recently, I added humor to my list of coping skills. Life is too short not to appreciate laughter, though sometimes it can be challenging to find the funny side while living with a chronic illness.

When I share my diagnosis with others, their responses vary widely. Sometimes people are curious and don’t hold back with questions. They want to know more about the disease’s progression. Others close off to the discussion. They don’t want to hear about it because it is too hard for them to accept that I have a fatal illness.

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On a few occasions, people have become overwhelmed with emotion. Their tears used to trigger my feelings as well, but I’ve since learned how to avoid getting overemotional.

I’ve found humor to be helpful during those intense moments. Recently, I used humor to calm the emotions of a family friend who had just learned of my diagnosis.

At first, she was curious and wanted to know more about this disease. When I explained the eventual need for a lung transplant, along with the poor prognosis of IPF, she began to cry. She asked me if I was dying. My reply was, “We’re all dying; it just might happen to me a little faster than my peers.” She couldn’t help but laugh at my unexpected candor.

At that moment, I realized how helpful humor could be as a coping strategy when it comes to sharing news of my IPF. Our family friend’s eruption of laughter brought us relief after her expression of sorrow. We continued our conversation, talking about how I’ve been managing my life since my diagnosis, before moving on to other lighter topics. I could tell that we were in a better space to talk openly about my illness after we had a good laugh.

Humor has also been beneficial when dealing with my need to use supplemental oxygen. I tend to talk a lot and am known to be a bit of a socialite. When my colleagues and I are on the way out the door to a meeting or a coffee run, it is common for me to stop to talk to someone else in the office. I am thankful that many of my colleagues carry my oxygen for me without asking, so I merely need to walk alongside them.

When I start to “dawdle,” as one of my colleagues calls it, she gives a gentle tug on my cannula line, indicating that we need to get going. It has become a joke that people use my cannula as a leash when I need to stay on task. It makes us laugh when this happens, alleviating my frustration with having to use supplemental oxygen.

How has humor helped you cope with your diagnosis? Please share a story if you think it will make others laugh.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News 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 Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Jennifer Burrell avatar

Jennifer Burrell

I am 48 years old and have IPF. I have so many other autoimmune disorders, it's hard to say when my IPF actually started since so many IPF symptoms, I already had. I am scared and have not been able to find humour in this diagnosis. I have been disabled since I was 28 years old due to my immune system only attacking my skin with psoriasis, Chronic Ideopathic Urticaria (hives and whelts that can cover my entire body), Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Soon after that, I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis. All of these gave me chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I have been homebound for years and do not drive anymore. Not one of these diagnosis' is life threatening. IPF is and I can't believe at 48 years old that I could die even faster than most people that only have IPF because of everything else I have and I also, found out that I have Hashimoto's (hypothyroidism) to add to my list of autoimmune disorders) when I found out at the same time I was diagnosed with IPF. My mother, father, and husband are the only people who know of my new diagnosis.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks so much for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments! Sorry to hear you're also dealing with this cruel disease, it is so unfair isn't it? Finding humor in the situation is not the route to go for everyone, especially during some of our most difficult times. So sorry to hear about all of your struggles with various immune conditions, that mustn't be easy. Are there any options for support groups for IPF patients in your area? While I didn't find it particularly effective for me to attend as a young adult, others have so maybe that is an option. Feel free to reach out to the PF forums any time; while I wish none of us had to deal with this disease, there are lots of us who truly "understand" on that site when others don't in person. I find some comfort in this. Hang in there, and thanks for writing.

Carmela avatar


Hello my dear friend Charlene,
That wonderful trip to Hawaii has to be soon. PHOTOS please, anxious to see where you go and how your lungs manage. I'll pray for the health of your lungs.
Humor is difficult as a coping strategy. But a couple of weeks ago, when I was talking to my niece about my illness, she was very emotional. And then I told her I didn't want to be reminded my 76th birthday was rapidly approaching because I was "leashed" to oxygen 24/7. All of a sudden, she started laughing and said, "Well at least we always know where you are!" I laughed; her response surprised me. But that simple statement did end the tension and we continued our discussion.

In your article, I really liked your response to the question about dying; it was sincere and empathetic as well as realistic. It is a delicate but honest way to talk about our disease to family and friends who have no idea.

Doodling and adult coloring books are great, aren't they? I color regularly; it is mentally and physically relaxing.

Enjoy yourself and travel safely!!!! Bless you and everyone...Carmela

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Carmela,

As always, it is soooo nice to hear from you - thank you so much for writing and for all of your kind words! You really have a way of lifting people up with your words, did you know that? :)

Yes, Hawaii is on the horizon my friend. I leave on September 25th, and I truly cannot wait for vacation and relaxation time by the sea. Thank you for your prayers about my lungs handling the travels okay, I am a bit nervous but think I've taken all the precautions I can to make this trip successful. I will definitely post pictures, and plan to bring the forums along with me on my travels.

Thanks for sharing your story with your niece! I agree, sometimes humour doesn't seem possible in light of the terrible illness we're facing, but in the right context, it certainly can lighten the mood and reduce the tension, as it seemed to in your conversation. Glad that option was there, thanks for sharing it with others and myself!

Thanks again for your kind words Carmela! Stay tuned for my travel updates on the forums beginning next Wednesday!!! It is so soon, I can't wait :) xo.

Carmela avatar


Oh my gosh, I am so excited for you!!!!!!much love and hugsoxooxxoxox
Thank YOU for your kind words......carmela


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