Women's Health

For This Comic with Breast Cancer, Laughter Is the Best Medicine

For This Comic with Breast Cancer, Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Photo credit: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Waterkeeper Alliance

Every individual’s experience with breast cancer is different. Some individuals may seek support from family and friends, while others may choose to withdraw from society altogether. Anyone with breast cancer understands that it can greatly affect an individual’s way of reason and belief. This is normal after treatment ends and the body and mind need time to heal.

About Tig Notaro

For Tig Notaro, wife and mother of twin boys via surrogate, breast cancer continues to remain a crucial event in her life as a comic. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and had to undergo a double mastectomy. Today, five years later, she is fully recovered. Throughout her career, Notaro has filmed a semi-autobiographical series, “One Mississipi”, two documentaries, and a comedy special. Her latest special, the “I have cancer” show, is dedicated to the period in her life when she had breast cancer. “I have a lot of material about marriage and kids. I have some just nonsense that brings me joy and turn luckily brings the audience some joy. I have some stories and I touch on what I went through and where I am now. It’s definitely a mix,” she said.

To her, 2012 “feels like a lifetime ago. I can’t believe where I was then,” she said. For a long time, Notaro wanted a family and now at the age of 46, she feels fortunate enough to have one. “It’s a dream come true to have my sons and I feel like everything in my personal life and professional life is through the filter of being a parent now. But I feel like I’m in a really good head space. I feel very lucky to have them” she said. Lack of sleep was the most difficult part when the twins were born. “There’s no way to fully understand how little sleep you get even if people tell you repeatedly…There was no way to prepare for that. Luckily, they sleep through the night now. The first nine months were quite the situation” Notaro said. At the time, she also had to tape season 2 of “One Mississipi”. “I’m pretty blown away by my ability to function with no sleep” she said.

Season 1 of “One Mississipi” looks into Notaro’s life after her mother passed away, yet season 2 will take on a different approach. “Season two is somehow way more honest all the while being way more fictional. Everything is rooted in honesty, either my own honesty or someone who is a writer on the show” she said.

Notaro went vegan after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She suffered from chronic pain up unitl recently. “In the past couple of months, I’ve been pain free. It feels like I’ve taken some magical portion” she said.

Finding relief after diagnosis

Many individuals find relief after breast cancer in different ways - Tig is merely one example of a woman who found relief with comedy. Monica Knoll wrote the book “Cancer 101” and joked about the apple martinis at her book party being chemo cocktails. “The last thing I wanted was people treating me like I was one foot in the grave. But friends and family have to feel it out” she said. Like so many women undergoing chemotherapy, she jokes about her condition most of the time. “I might as well have fun with it” she said. Four years ago, another woman by the name of Saranne Rothberg, had “chemo comedy” parties while undergoing treatment for advanced breast cancer. “It was a way to fight my cancer in an open, cathartic way” she said. Her own experience inspired her to start Comedy Cures, a nonprofit organization helping ill patients get a good laugh (it even has a joke hot line). “But if you don’t have cancer, you have to sit on your humor until you get the go-ahead. It's important to listen for cues and not deliver the first joke” Rothberg said.

Benefits of laughter

There are several organizations that acknowledge humor in helping patients with pain. In fact, when you laugh, your brain releases chemicals called serotonin, also known as “happy hormones”. They trigger happiness and relax your muscles. Laughter brings about with it several benefits: physical health benefits, emotional health benefits, and social health benefits. The physical health benefits of laughter include decreasing pain, lowering stress hormones, boosting your immune system, and preventing heart disease. The emotional health benefits of laughter include improving your mood, relieving tension and anxiety, strengthening your resilience, and adding joy to your life. Finally, the social benefits of laughter include strengthening your relationships, promoting group bonding, and helping solve conflict situations.

Of course, if you are not always in the mood to laugh, there are other things that can help, such as:

  • Watching comedy TV shows or movies
  • Enjoying quality family time
  • Reading funny cards or joke books

Lowering risk of cancer recurrence

If you are cancer free and yet you worry about recurrence, there are approaches that you can take to lower your risk of breast cancer coming back. Maintaining a healthy diet, controlling your weight, exercising on a regular basis, and taking nutritional supplements are just some of the things that might prove helpful and may even protect you from other health-related problems. Moreover, it is important that:

  • You are informed about breast cancer and understand what you can do for your well-being
  • You focus your energy on positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts
  • You express your feelings of sorrow, frustration, or anxiety
  • You seek support from family, friends, a counselor or other cancer survivors
  • You stay as active as possible and focus on other things besides breast cancer
  • You find ways to help you relax when you are feeling stressed or worried
  • You give into your feelings and do what you feel is right for you (recognize that you do not have to be cheerful all the time)
  • You focus on what you can control as opposed to what you cannot
  • You do not blame yourself for having breast cancer

It is only natural to worry about breast cancer recurrence, especially during the first year after cancer treatment. Just as breast cancer had affected your physical health, it can also affect your emotional health long after treatment ends. Yet, as time goes by, you will think about breast cancer less and less. Still, there are some events that may cause you worry or trigger stressful emotions. Keep in mind that every individual is different and experiences things in different ways. It may take you a while to open up and express your fears and emotions. When you are ready, turn to support from those closest to you. You may even find seeking support from other cancer survivors can help you to cope with life after breast cancer. Above all, remember that it is OK to laugh at yourself every once in a while and a smile can sometimes help fight off stressful or worrisome thoughts. As the saying goes “laughter is the best medicine”.