39-year-old Beth Pendergrass was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2018. But it’s her method of coping with the disease that makes her case one for the record books.
It all started when Beth cut her hair short in preparation for chemotherapy, and a friend at work told her she looked like Julie Andrews’s character, Maria von Trapp, from The Sound of Music. Beth decided to take ownership of the accidental style and adopt the rest of the outfit too for a little photo shoot. She posted a photograph of herself as Maria von Trapp to Instagram with this caption.
“Week 1: My hills are alive with high-grade DCIS.
“I believe there is so much truth in the statement, “Laughter is the best medicine.” So I have decided to document my cancer journey through picture reenactments. I will beat this thing, and I will keep the laughter. #cancersucks #attackingcancer #susangkomen”
The post became the first in a number of “recreations” ranging from David Bowie and Richard Simmons to Marilyn Monroe and Miss Piggy. She’s dressed up as Charlie Chaplin, Derek Zoolander, Sleeping Beauty, Marge Simpson, Mrs. Doubtfire, and even Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation.
Beth’s so-called “costume therapy” has helped her cope with her disease and keep her spirits up. It has also added a little extra interest for those following her cancer story on social media. You never know what creative costume this brave lady is going to be wearing next!
Beth’s Instagram account, instabeth 505, currently has more than 1,000 followers and growing. However, there are some people who are skeptical of the display and wonder why Beth would partake of such a crazy activity as a coping mechanism. Here’s her response, straight from one of her Instagram captions:
“I’ve never had a problem asserting my individuality as evidenced by this crazy way I’ve chosen to document my cancer journey 😜. We all have challenges in our lives, and we all choose to deal with them in our own way. There isn’t one right way. You have to find what works for you. Taking a positive, humorous approach is what works for me. I believe attitude is everything, and I am the only one who can control my attitude and my response to my current situation.”
According to Catherine Alfano, vice president of Survivorship for American Cancer Society, it isn’t abnormal for people to find an “eccentric” way to cope with stressful situations like this one. “People respond to the stress of dealing with cancer diagnosis and treatment in all sorts of ways,” she says. “For some patients, using humor can help decrease stress and help people find moments of joy in what can be a frightening time. Humor shared between patients and oncology clinicians also helps clinicians cope with the stress of repeatedly sharing bad news with patients.”
In October of 2018, Beth had her cancerous tumor successfully removed, as well as 13 lymph nodes. She is currently cancer-free but undergoing follow-up radiation and will have to do more radiation as well, because her cancer has a high probability for recurrence.
Beth has been open and honest about the risk of recurrence as well. “Unfortunately, with cancer, there are no clear-cut answers,” she posted on Instagram. “Will it work? Will the cancer come back? There’s no way to know for sure. So, when all is said and done, do I live my life waiting around and fearing the worst? The answer is easy — NO! Because, I don’t fear cancer. I fear a boring life, and I can control that. I will live the life I want. I will continue to be as curious, passionate and adventurous as I have always been.”
Thank you, Beth, for keeping the laughter in your life and inspiring others to find joy in theirs as well!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?