Tig Notaro: Life After Cancer

Tig Notaro | The Silver Pen

In the past week, I have heard about Tig Notaro and her life after breast cancer no less than three times, most recently via an interview on Refinery 29. I’m of the belief that when a story or person keeps entering your universe that I ought to pay attention. So I am. And thought that you might like to learn about the inspiring Tig Notaro as well.

Tig Notaro was 41 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which followed (you’re never going to believe this!) a four-month period during which her mother passed away, she battled pneumonia as well as a bacterial infection in her digestive tract, and she went through a breakup. The standup routine she did several days after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, which famously begins with Notaro saying, “Good evening! Hello. I have cancer! How are you?” went viral.

Here is her interview, which I found to be particularly inspiring. I hope that you do as well.

You spoke very publicly about your diagnosis soon after receiving it. How you were able to access the humor of the situation so quickly?
“I think it was a part of my coping process. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a series of horrible things happen, and during that time I was so cold — just physically and emotionally beaten down. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer that I found a sense of humor about everything. The cancer was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

When you found the lump, did you know what it was? 
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t have breast cancer on either side of the family. I didn’t smoke, I was a healthy eater, I was young. I had several friends who had had lumps that were nothing. I just really didn’t think I had anything to be concerned about. It was a shock to find out it was cancer.”

Who was your support system at that time? 
“My friends, my stepfather, my brother, my aunt. Family and friends. Certainly my story went viral, so I had tremendous support from strangers and friends as well. The support from strangers made me so excited about humanity. People seemed to really want to latch onto something good or positive. It was nice to see and be a part of.”

Did you ever feel defeated?
“I wanted to survive the whole time — though it sometimes felt like once I would get up again, I was going to be knocked down. But, I always wanted to survive. There was never a part of me that wanted to really give up. I certainly felt defeated at times, though.”

How did your mother’s passing affect your thoughts about your own mortality? 
“Oddly, the brushes with death that I was coming upon, repeatedly, made me feel close to my mother — I was comforted by the thought that if I were to go, she had just passed away, too. I kept thinking that she wouldn’t have ever believed that not only did she die, but that right after, I would be going as well. But, I never wanted to die.”

What would you say to someone else who was just diagnosed with breast cancer?
“Whether it’s breast cancer or anything else, I think just the smallest thing is the biggest thing, which is to take a step. Whether it’s to get out of bed, or go to the doctor, or to inform yourself, just take one step and another step. And, just breathe in and out. I know it sounds so basic, but that’s all I could do, and even then, I didn’t want to take small steps very often. I just didn’t want to do anything. But, if you just take one step, it’s gigantic.”

What do you want women in general to know about breast cancer? 
“I was so, so naive. I was the least likely candidate, but I still could have had cancer and did have cancer. So, I want women to know that they should research and not fall prey to thinking that there’s no chance you could have it. Because that’s just denial and it’s so much better to live in reality.”

How are you doing now? 
“I’m personally doing very well. I feel like a very lucky person. The most important thing is to keep taking small steps, one after the other. Those tiny but small gigantic steps forward. It’s so important. It’s so crucial.”

Leave a comment


  1. carla says

    It's rare to get Heinz cancer and rarer still to have stage two in both breasts. I would hope she'd go into more detail about such a rare situation.

    Ms. Notaro told Terry Gross(Fresh Air, NPR) that after surgery alone she was told she'd have a 7 percent chance of the cancer returning. I then read that Notaro has opted for natural remedies, and was so inspired.

    Yet, a recent article in the Independent(Claire Black) stated that Notaro has been laid low with "radiotherapy." Another article stated she had begun five years of hormone blockers( a year after diagnosis.) On an episode of Amy Shumer's comedy show, Ms. Notaro spoke of having chemotherapy. Very confusing.

  2. kyle says

    Thank you! I have found great comfort and inspiration in this site and want to thank you and everyone for sharing their stories.
    I don't know if anyone else felt a huge sense of isolation during treatment and for a time during healing as well, but reading stories from this community definitely helped!
    You all rock!

    • says

      So so glad to hear that this community is helping you, Kyle. The people who visit here inspire me every day!
      Please take good care,

  3. Carolee Groux says

    One of the books I am currently reading is "After the Cure – The Untold Stories of Breast Cancer Survivors" by Emily K. Abel and Saskia K. Subramanian, with a Foreword by Patricia A. Ganz, M.D.
    Emily Abel is a breast cancer survivor, author, and Professor of Health Services and Women's Studies at UCLA. Saskia Subramanian is Assistant Research Sociologist at the UCLA Center for Culture and Health, Dept. of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Studies.
    Copywrited in 2008 by New York University and published in paperback in 2010.

    The book describes some of the debilitating and ongoing symptoms, like chemo brain,fatigue, chronic pain,insomnia, and depression that plague some BC survivors long after treatments have officially ended. After the Cure is is filled with fascinating portraits of women who are living with the aftermath of BC. These women give voice to the complicated, often bittersweet realities of life after the cure.

    So far it is a pretty compelling, honest, and interesting read.

  4. Carolee Groux says

    The tenacity and humor Tig Notaro found within herself after a BC diagnosis is inspiring. With calamities assailing her from all sides she managed to keep moving, one small step at a time.

    Another inspiring story is that of Kyle, our reader who has her share of family problems to deal with at the very time of her own cancer diagnosis. She too sets an example of finding laughter and absurdity throughout. I like her summation: "Life is crazy and filled with speed bumps, but so worth the ride".

  5. kyle says

    I could not agree with Tig more, just taking a step each day and continuing to move forward is the best way to cope.

    Like Tig, my diagnosis came at a time when life seemed to be a series of relentless speed bumps which left me numb and working on autopilot. My business fell victim to the recession, my father was very ill and had been in and out of hospitals and rehab centers for months, my siblings and I were in turmoil over the shift in roles from child to caregiver, and the man I deeply loved broke up with me. It seemed like each phone call was another life and death crisis, and each email was another job rejection, piece of bad news, or fire that needed to be put out. Then, one morning in the shower I felt a lump and what I refer to as my time on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride of Life, turned very wild indeed.

    I was young and active with no family history of breast cancer and every thing you are supposed to do to reduce cancer risk had always been part of my life. I figured it was just due to my period, but when the lump was still there a week later I decided to call my doctor. Most of these things turn out not to be cancer, but sometimes they do.

    Another emergency call from my sister let me know that my father was taken to the hospital again and I needed to get there for it didn't look good. So I drove the 2 hours to the hospital to learn that he had taken a turn for the worse and that surgery was needed. The risks were very high. I called my brother and told him he had to get on a plane and asked my father's doctor to help me decide what to do for I was due back home for a biopsy the next day just as my father was to be taken into surgery. He told me if I were his wife, sister or daughter that he would want me to go and that I had to trust that should the worst come, my sister would be there and hopefully my brother would make it in time.

    The next day I kissed my father goodbye, held my sister tight and told her it would all be okay, and got into the car to drive 2 hours north climb on the table myself and undergo my own procedure before getting back in the car and joining my siblings in the ICU.

    The next two weeks were spent in the hospital where my father remained in the ICU and each day contained multiple "this is it" moments and far too many discussions about end of life. At the same time, my doctors were calling me that I needed to schedule my own surgery. Nuts.

    Miraculously my father made it through and as my saga unfolded with surgeries, daily trips to radiation and more speed bumps along the way, I somehow made it through. I applaud and admire Tig for being able to embrace the comedic aspects of the situation for lets face it, sometimes the best thing you can do when faced with these things is laugh.

    It is amazing what you can get through and what depths of strength you have when you really need them. By putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps every day to keep moving forward, we get through to the other side. If you can find the laughter in the silliness and absurdity of it all along the way, even better!

    Cheers to Tig and to all of the other people out there who have had their own crazy wild ride. Hearing your stories never fails to inspire me and help me to maintain perspective. Life is crazy and filled with speed bumps but so worth the ride!

    Remember, fondling is not only fun, it just might save your life!

    • says

      Dear Dear Kyle.
      Thank you so very much for sharing your story. Wow. How inspiring you and your family are. I wholeheartedly agree that it is truly amazing what a person can get through when challenged. Sometimes it's the baby steps – one right in front of the other – that make all the difference in the world.
      All my best wises to you!

  6. Kim C says

    I find Tig's humour, honesty and advice very inspiring. She sounds like a very real person. I wish her well!