Oh, Hey Cancer: Takeaways from My ‘Irish Funny’ COVID Year

In the worst of times, here's to remembering the very, very good.

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I have a phrase I use with my husband, “Irish funny.” It refers to things that are so preposterously bad that they flip around and almost become funny. It’s my nod to the dark humor of the Irish, including that of my late mama, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

You could say I had a pretty “funny” year the past year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of the pandemic. I found a bump that looked like a little mosquito bite under my right armpit, but it wasn’t red or itchy. 

Because of COVID, it took several months to get in for an exam. I got the bad news in late May that it was cancer. By that point, we were drowning in requests at Snopes to fact-check COVID rumors. We were in the midst of a mini-hiring blitz across the company. And then George Floyd was murdered by a cop, unleashing protests across the country, all on the eve of the most momentous presidential election of my life

Epic stress levels. I’m happy to say my cancer treatments finally ended late last week — lumpectomy, followed by five months of chemo, followed by 33 straight days of radiation. It brought new realizations (and renewed beliefs) around work and health: 

Do meaningful work if you can. I’ve been blessed to be doing fulfilling work my entire adult life —  journalism —  that strives to serve the public good. I could focus on doing what I loved despite the bone-tired exhaustion from cancer treatment because …

… Cancer treatment (or COVID treatment or any other major treatment) is a full-time job. The hardest part of treatment wasn’t the awful side effects but the barrage of texts, phone calls, emails, snail mail, and Zoom calls from numerous doctors at numerous facilities all day long, and the non-stop appointments with them. Nurses repeatedly told me cancer was a “full-time job.” And now I get it. 

Humor also makes work worthwhile. I’ve also been blessed to work in a profession that I’d swear employs as many funny people as stand-up comedy — even when it runs dark. Our Slack break room is a comic treasure trove of shared Tik Tok videos, pun headlines and Seinfeldian observations about our times. This little gem, for instance, has kept me laughing for days. We also “card” each other with impunity for bad puns.

People are basically good — yeah I said it. The rage politics of the past year challenged my most basic belief about people. But if you do the math, we couldn’t have survived as a species if most of us didn’t aim to do right by others. I was the recipient of intense love and support last year from my husband, Albert; his/our mama, Sun Cha; my “sister from another mister,” Mary Jo (our Snopes HR/budget guru); and my neighbors. But most astonishingly, from complete strangers.

Colleagues and associates of Albert, friends of friends — in many cases people I’d never met — showered us with home-made food, plants, creams and salves, candy, flowers. I couldn’t keep up. It reminded me of Oklahoma City after the bombing, where I covered rescue efforts as a young reporter. One of my first tours of the city included a gymnasium that stored gifts sent from strangers from around the world to the survivors. The city practically had to beg people to stop — they were running out of storage space. My heart feels like that gym– bursting with love. 

We all know we have one, short, hopefully funny life. But if life turns “funny,” do meaningful work, laugh, and rejoice in the good people around you. Here’s to never forgetting that.

— Doreen Marchionni, managing editor/vice president of editorial