Battling Cancer With T-Shirts And Laughter Linda Hill's experience with multiple cancers led her to create a niche line of T-shirts. She and her family have created many aphorisms — or cancer zingers — that are embroidered on shirts. The one-liners help patients cope with breast, colon and other types of cancer.
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Battling Cancer With T-Shirts And Laughter

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Battling Cancer With T-Shirts And Laughter

Battling Cancer With T-Shirts And Laughter

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It is hard to imagine anything funny about cancer, especially for someone like Linda Hill of Clearfield, Utah. She has suffered four bouts with cancer in the past 30 years, and she's still being treated. She has lost her colon, spleen, thyroid and breasts. But she has found ways to laugh through it all.

And as NPR's Howard Berkes found, she's trying to get other cancer patients to laugh with her.

HOWARD BERKES: Linda Hill was just 19 years old when the first diagnosis hit.

Ms. LINDA HILL (Owner, That very day, I went from going to the doctor to get cough syrup into surgery, and I had a tumor the size of a softball. It was Hodgkin's disease, which is a lymphoma cancer. So it was quite serious. In fact, they did talk to my parents and say, you know, is there something she's always wanted to do? Maybe you ought to take her.

BERKES: But Hill survived after 14 months of chemo and radiation and the removal of her spleen. And aside from regular check-ups, she didn't give much thought to cancer until six years ago.

Ms. HILL: I had strep throat and the doctor was feeling my glands, and he said, you know, you have a mass in your thyroid. And that turned out to be cancer as well.

BERKES: Then last year, after another cancer check-up, doctors suspected a liver problem and ordered a PET scan.

Ms. HILL: And my liver was fine, but my left breast was lit up like the Fourth of July. So I had both my breasts removed.

BERKES: And then came the colonoscopy last February.

Ms. HILL: And I had over 70 polyps. I can make a cancer cell, and I can make it fast. In less than eight months from when I had both my breasts removed, they removed my colon.

BERKES: Now, Hill has a family of practical jokers. She's a single mom of five girls and two boys, and once pinned them all to their bed sheets while they slept. So all the cancers and all the lost body parts seemed, well, funny.

Ms. HILL: Because the girls were like, wow. You're going to have to date guys that, you know, like butts and thighs or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HILL: Because I had lost my breasts. And then I had the one daughter who was, thanks - I mean, here I'm going into surgery, thanks so much for making me not be the smallest-breast person.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HILL: Anything I can do for you, honey; I'm your mom.

BERKES: And the zingers just kept on coming.

Ms. HILL: They took a lump from my breast, so why not my thigh? There's not a woman on the planet that doesn't relate to that one. And we thought, you know, we ought to put these things on shirts because this is just so funny.


Ms. HILL: Hi, Diane.

DIANE: How are you doing?

Ms. HILL: I have your next shipment.

DIANE: Perfect.

BERKES: Here, Hill delivers a stack of mustard-colored shirts to the gift shop at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City. And just outside the door, in the lobby, is her T-shirt display.

Ms. HILL: Of course, I lost my colon, but I'm still full of crap. Oh, this is a great one: Mastectomy: $12,000. Radiation: $30,000. Chemotherapy: $11,000. Never wearing a bra again: Priceless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HILL: I hope my kids inherit their mother's prostate. But - and this is our number one seller and it's: Of course, they're fake. The real ones tried to kill me.

BERKES: The idea is to help patients laugh through chemo. The shirts are selling online and in cancer centers across the country. Eight hundred have gone out so far at 24.95 apiece. Hill has donated $1,600 of the proceeds to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, but she's $7,000 in debt, so she's not quitting her day job as a produce manager.

Her own smile fades as she recalls her first chemo treatments 30 years ago, to explain why she has to laugh at cancer.

Ms. HILL: It was very strange because the office was mostly older people, and they were all just angry and bitter and sad. And I thought, oh, I don't want to live like that. I don't want my kids to remember me that way. So now, I'm crying. But I'm going to be a grandma. And I saw another daughter get married. And I saw another football season of my son.

(Soundbite of weeping)

Ms. HILL: I've got another son graduating and going to college. And I'd rather they remember me having fun.

BERKES: She'd rather they remember the fun. Hill quickly composes herself and gets back to the fun with a look at the slogans to come.

Ms. HILL: One of them, my youngest, thought of and it says: Who needs boobs? And then on the back, at the bottom part of the shirt, it's going to say: With a butt like this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HILL: But we've got one that's going to look like a rearview mirror of a car that says: Objects in shirt are smaller than they appear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HILL: And so, yeah, they just keep abounding.

BERKES: And Hill is hearing from people with cancers yet to make it on her shirts. Ovarian and pancreatic jokes are on the way.

Linda Hill's best line isn't on any shirt, but she uses it to describe herself: She's so much more than a boob, she laughs. She's so much more than cancer.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Salt Lake City.

(Soundbite of music)

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