By Margaret Harding, Tribune-Review
The Cancer Caring Center wants its patients to laugh their way to better spirits.
The Bloomfield center is working with laughter yoga instructor David Russell to offer classes to cancer patients beginning in September.
"Fundamentally, cancer is a pretty overwhelming disease," said Bonnie Shields, director of support services for the cancer center. "What often happens in the process is the family or the patient has so much on their plate that they forget to appreciate any circumstances in their life that is joyful.
Laughter might not be the best medicine, but it helps, said Dr. Sharon Plank of the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine in Shadyside.
Laughing increases circulation, oxygenates tissues and can distract someone, such as a cancer patient, from pain, she said.
"When you think about the physiology of laughter, it makes sense that it would improve your health," Plank said. "When you're laughing deeply, it involves your whole body."
Russell led free laughter sessions at libraries in Allegheny County in July as part of the Wise Walk program. He also hosts his own club the first and third Thursday of each month at the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside. The Cancer Caring Center will sponsor these sessions which will take place from 7 to 7:45 p.m. The sessions are free to the public and all are welcome.
The sessions include exercises such as saying "Aloha-ha-ha" and yelling "hot dog" to simulate and then stimulate laughter.
"I don't think we can just come home at night and watch TV and just expect relaxation to happen," said Russell, who earned his certification from the American School of Laughter Yoga in Los Angeles, California. "I believe there are purposeful things we can do to stimulate relaxation."
Shields said she watched Russell lead 200 people in a session for the American Cancer Society.
"It was just amazing and a truly moving sight to see all these people, sitting at their tables, looking at each other, doing the laughter exercises and having a ball," Shields said. "If our patients have a more positive attitude, they tend to do better in treatment."
Nancy Martincic of Bridgeville recently attended an open session at the Bridgeville Public Library.
"I think the greatest benefit," she said, "was that, for 40 minutes, we didn't think of anything in the outside world."
For more information call the Cancer Caring Center at (412) 622-1212