Tig Notaro Does Stand Up to Breast Cancer
By Pam Stephan

Tig Notaro opened her stand-up comedy set in Los Angeles by saying “Thank you, thank you, I have cancer, thank you, I have cancer, really, thank you.” Although Tig usually makes her fans laugh, this time she made them laugh and cry as she told them that just 3 days earlier she had been diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. She wasn’t making light of her cancer, but she did give a very personal slant on her recent string of bad events: her mother’s sudden death from a fall, her own hospitalization due to a bacterial infection, a relationship breakup, and then breast cancer.

Notaro is just 41 years old and has appeared with Sarah Silverman, Conan, Amy Schumer, and was recently featured on radio by “This American Life.” She has made cracks about having small breasts – but now those seem more poignant than funny, especially as she may be looking at a double mastectomy. She noticed the lump about a year ago, but didn’t go for a mammogram even though she was age 40, the time that most doctors agree is appropriate to start breast screening. Her mammograms both indicated abnormalities, then she went on to have ultrasounds and other tests. At the end of the day, her doctor told her, “Well, we have to get biopsies done but from what I can see with all the testing we’ve done today it is very probable that you do (have cancer) in both breasts, yes.” By the time she went on stage at Los Angeles’ Largo Club, she had biopsy results which confirmed her diagnosis. Many people would have cancelled shows at that point, but Notaro went on, and her performance was given a standing ovation.

In 2010, young women represented 30% of all cases of breast cancer. This is alarming because younger women are more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive tumors. Treatments must be matched to the stage, grade, and extent of the cancer – so if a tumor is rapidly dividing and shedding cells, then it must be given systemic treatment that can take out as much as possible of the renegade cells. Tig Notaro is at a great place in her comedy career – she’s moving to New York to work on Amy Schumer’s new TV comedy sketch series. It could be rough on Notaro to be dealing with chemo, radiation, surgery, etc. as well as writing or taping stand-up segments for the show as well. Other media personalities have done it – Robin Roberts comes to mind – so perhaps Notaro will triumph as well.

Brave soul that Notaro is, she first publicly talked about her cancer on the podcast Professor Blastoff. Her fans reacted with shock and support. Hopefully, she will keep talking openly and generously sharing her experiences with doctors, nurses, drugs, hospitals, and other patients. There’s bound to be more humor as well as heartbreak ahead. Let’s hope that Notaro will keep doing stand-up, even to breast cancer.