When most of us think of cancer we don't envision laughter.

But for a group of women - some with incurable cancer - who receive treatment on Wednesdays at California Oncology of the Central Valley in northeast Fresno, finding humor in the absurd is part of staying positive in dark times.

The laughter started when inflammatory breast cancer patient Mary Barcelos showed up for treatment wearing a birthday gift from her daughter - dangling, chandelier earrings with blue stones.

"You don't think they're hooker-ish, do you?" Barcelos asked oncology nurse Carolyn Gaston.

"They seem for a lady over the top," Gaston replied.

They laughed.

The following week, Gaston wore big, gaudy earrings on the day of Barcelos' visit.

More laughs.

Nearly five years later, the chandelier-earrings incident has blossomed into a "Hooker Earring Wednesday" support group. The women book their treatments Wednesday afternoons, and they all wear big, cheap, flashy earrings.

The cheaper the earrings, the better.

"You have to have humor; otherwise, it could get you down," says Ola Loflin, wearing heart-shaped, silver spiral earrings that she bought for $1.50.

Margie Sherrel, says laughing with the other women makes her feel as if she isn't going through something terrible alone.

"Having the camaraderie of these women takes your mind off what you have to go through," she says. "We all care about each other. We've become good friends."

Mary Oberti prays for all the other women in the group and says she is a miracle. Her doctors' prognosis for her cancer was six months to a year - and that was 14 years ago.

"It's incurable still," she says. "But I keep coming back here. It's because of love - and prayer."

The number of women laughing Wednesdays rises and drops. Some members pass away. New patients arrive. Some enter remission.

Naomi Kirk is in remission and returned for a Valentine-themed special potluck this month wearing teardrop-shaped, metal earrings. Everyone noticed her stylishly cut, grown-out hair.

"I was scared when I started coming here, but I derived a circle of strength from this group," she says. "I used to pick out special outfits just for my big earrings."

The staff at California Oncology finds inspiration in the women.

"These women will be on and off chemo for the rest of their lives, or until there's a cure," says Gaston, the nurse. "They could easily stay at home and pull the covers over their heads, but they're not doing that. They're being courageous."

Another nurse, Susan Dunn, says, "I know these women have a disease that has put a time limit on their lives, but their lives are still timeless. I see hope."

Administrator Sera Soto Larsen says the women are proving that laughter works: "The cancer journey can be ugly. You're sick. You lose your hair. It's a low time. To find joy in a potentially devastating thing, it's absolutely incredible."

Barcelos says she never dreamed gaudy earrings could make people so happy.

"We're not here for a hangnail; our lives are threatened, and that's sad," she says, sporting gold, hoop earrings lined in rabbit fur. "But, by using humor, it turns things around. At the end of the day, it's about trying to make something sad and dire into an enjoyable time. I hold each woman in my heart."