Using humor to cope with a nevus
For Robert Brown, looking on the bright side of things comes naturally.
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By Patricia McAdams, Staff Writer, Nevus Outreach
While medical research reviewing the effects of humor on specific health outcomes is still in its infancy, doctors believe that finding humor in everyday situations reduces stress, encourages relaxation, improves self esteem, and enhances a person’s overall quality of life.
Doing what comes naturally
Ask Robert Brown, 47, of Canton, Ohio. For Brown, looking on the bright side of things comes naturally — even though he has what he calls “the giant-est of all giant nevi.” Brown confesses to having been born into “a wise-cracking family” and he seems to have inherited that funny bone from his folks.
“My dad is very humorous and my one sister is over-the-top crazy,” he says, “And I was kind of a goof-ball when I was a school kid. I would do all kinds of fun pranks and get sent out into the hall like anyone else.”
Brown remembers his high school years, especially, when his sisters were each voted “Most Likely To Succeed,” during their senior year. He smugly anticipated the same honor when he was a senior, because he was the class salutatorian, as well as class president. He was tickled at how proud his parents would be to have three kids so recognized.
But then a stunning thing happened!
“They voted me ‘Class Clown,’ instead,” he says, laughing.
“One time I heard my mom talking about all the dumb things I was doing in school and she said she thought it was just my way of coping.”
Brown talks about attending the conferences in Texas, where people often were emotional and would talk of terrible traumas they had experienced, because of their nevi.
“But I never had trouble as a kid,” says Brown. “Considering that my nevus covers most of my body and my left ear and part of my forehead — and half of the left side of my face and the front of my neck is all skin grafts — I just never had an issue. I was always a top student in my class, so I would help whoever needed help. We would all get along really well in the process.”
Most of Brown’s excision and skin grafting surgeries were as a child, with only one after he was 15. He decided to have a nevus removed from the middle of his forehead.
“That thing was shaped like a giant fried egg,” he says.
“It grew hairs straight out, like a hedge hog, and it was bushy. I had to keep it shaved, so my bangs would stay down.”
Because it was annoying, in his late twenties he tried to get it removed but, in fact, it was too big to cut out all at once. The surgeon took half out and said to come back in a year or two after the skin had stretched out a bit and they could remove the rest.
“My sister teased me about having a ‘facelift’ and asked why I bothered, given that I’ve got a whole ear that’s brown— and all these other satellites on my face and chin and everywhere else. That was a good question. I thought, why go through that again? So I never went back to the surgeon.
“You gotta live with who you are and do the best you can with it,” he says.
Spontaneous humor involves finding humor in one’s life and that comes easily to Brown who simply likes making people laugh. His sense of humor evidently contributes to his overall success and quality of life, both in business and as a family man. He is a partner in a commercial real estate development company. His focus is on the handling the operations of the company, which includes property management of 35 shopping centers and office buildings, financing, personnel issues, and whatever else comes up.
And he married Molly Malone, his high school sweetheart, as soon as he finished college. They’ve been married 25 years now and they have three kids.
“The kids have inherited that humorous trait from us, so we have a great time together,” he says.
Humor as a choice
While Brown seems to have been born with a sense of humor, humor is more of a choice for many others. But it’s just as effective, according to Megan Fields, 33, Knoxville, Tenn., who also was born with a large congenital melanocytic nevus and lots of satellites.
As most readers know, Fields is Director of Development at Nevus Outreach and also teaches public speaking at the University of Tennessee. Unlike Brown, however, who was never troubled or angry because of his nevi, Fields has had to cope with these kinds of issues and finds humor a terrific tool and coping mechanism to help her do so. Specifically, when people ask her what’s going on with all her spots, she responds with a snappy comeback.
“My mom left me out in the rain and I rusted,” she’ll say. Or, “This is what happens when you eat too much chocolate.” Or, “I swallowed a dollar and it came out in pennies.
“If you are able to feel confident and respond with a smile and say these things, I think that is so powerful,” says Fields.
Brown would agree. “Some people walk around under a dark cloud all the time. But life is too short. You can’t do that.
“Humor is a disarming mechanism,” he says. “If you can share a laugh, it just puts people at ease.”