My Story: Stars Who've Faced Breast Cancer
From Lesley Murphy’s preventative move to Rita Wilson urging women to learn from her experience, see the women who’ve shared their survivor stories.
Age at high-risk diagnosis: 29
Like Angelina Jolie before her, Bachelor alum Murphy found out she tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation, which greatly increases her chance of developing breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, so Murphy—who placed fifth on Sean Lowe's season of The Bachelor—chose to get ahead of her diagnosis and have a preventative double mastectomy in April 2017. "I was just kind of like, You know, I don’t really want to be sitting on these potentially cancerous cells. Like, why hang on to something that is a ticking time bomb?" Murphy told People of the initial conversation with her doctor. Of fans' support, she said, "It’s nice to share in commiserating or laughing with all these people who have come out to support me: complete strangers. I’m just scrolling through comments the other day and broke down crying because I just was overwhelmed with emotion and the goodness in humanity.
JESSICA ST. CLAIR
Age at diagnosis: 38
The Playing House star was serving her then-2-year-old daughter breakfast in 2015 when she realized something wasn't right. Days later, she was diagnosed with stage 2B estrogen positive cancer. "I remember thinking, 'I will do anything and everything I need to do to stay alive for my daughter and make sure this has the least amount of impact on her life,' " she recalled to People. After intense chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, she's cancer-free, and using her journey as inspiration for the new season of Playing House. "I knew we were going to have to tell the story, because [costar Lennon Parham] and I always write about what we're going through in real life," she said. "There are a lot of young moms going through this and I want them to know, 'Hey, I can do this too!' "
Ages at diagnosis: 44 and 68
Following a 1992 cancer diagnosis in her right breast, the Grease star underwent a modified radical mastectomy and a year of chemotherapy, employing herbs, acupuncture, and mental imaging to cope with the nausea. "I visualized [the chemicals] as gold liquid going into my body, healing me, rather than what it really is, which is poison," she told People in 2000. "So, OK, I didn't die. I was stronger than I thought." Afterward, the breast cancer advocate released a 2005 album, Stronger than Before, dedicated to "going through difficulty and getting through it," she revealed on Good Morning America at the time. In 2017, she shared the sad news that she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer again, and that this time it had spread to her sacrum. But in an exclusive statement to People, Newton-John said she is “totally confident” as she focuses on her health for the next few months. “I am feeling good and enjoying total support from my family and friends, along with a team of wellness and medical practitioners.”
Age at diagnosis: Unknown
On a November 2016 episode of The Real, the Being Mary Jane actress talked about her diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, found not by a mammogram, but an ultrasound. "A mammogram is like a snowstorm and you're trying to find a snowflake," she said. "You don't see it until it's much worse and so that's why I really, kind of, want to advocate for women to get ultrasounds and early detection. The good thing was that it was treatable."
Age at diagnosis: 40
Diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2014—and declared cancer-free that October—helped the TV host see the silver lining in her situation. "While I lay in bed recovering from my mastectomy, my husband said to me, 'Babe, when life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade,' " she recalled to People. And the couple's website, Gotta Make Lemonade, which "inspires positivity in the face of adversity," per Harris, was born. "It's a destination for visitors to submit their stories of overcoming a challenge—there are stories about battling through illness, infertility, injuries, depression," she explained. "I didn't realize just how much positivity could help you heal."
Age at diagnosis: 44
The 90210 and Charmed actress revealed to People in August 2015 that she's battling breast cancer—and is currently undergoing treatment. Doherty's fight is slightly different than those of other stars, though: she's in the midst of legal proceedings related to her diagnosis too. Her insurance lapsed due to unpaid premiums, so she is suing her business manager for failing to pay. Despite this, she's staying upbeat: "Yes, I have breast cancer, and I am currently undergoing treatment," the actress said in an exclusive statement to People. "I am continuing to eat right, exercise and stay very positive about my life. I am thankful to my family, friends, and doctors for their support and, of course, my fans who have stood by me."
Age at diagnosis: 58
The actress (and wife of Tom Hanks) has an underlying condition she monitors regularly. An abnormality raised some red flags with her doctor, though cancer wasn't detected. However, a friend urged Wilson to get a second opinion—at which time she found out she did, in fact, have breast cancer, and in April 2015, she told People she'd had a bilateral mastectomy. "I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health," she said. "You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed was found. I hope this will encourage others to get a second opinion and trust their instincts if something doesn't 'feel' right."
Age at high-risk diagnosis: 37
After tests revealed she had a high risk of developing breast cancer, Jolie quietly underwent a double mastectomy in February, she told the New York Times in a May 2013 op-ed article. "I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made," wrote the mother of six. "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer." In 2015, she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent a possible cancer scare.
Age at diagnosis: 43
When the singer took the stage at the 2005 Grammy Awards with a show-stopping rendition of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," she famously performed bald—a reminder of her October 2004 breast cancer diagnosis. "I'm feeling great," she proclaimed to People. Years later, performing 10,000 feet up in the air for a 2009 Breast Cancer Research Foundation benefit, Etheridge said, "My health is better now than it's ever been. Cancer woke me up."
Age at diagnosis: 36
After watching her mother battle cancer twice, Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2008 and underwent a double mastectomy, even though cancer was detected in only one of her breasts. "Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I scream, and I get really angry," the actress, now cancer-free and the mother of a 4-year-old daughter, admitted on Good Morning America, adding, "I think it's all part of healing."
Age at diagnosis: 37
"The second I heard 'cancer,' I just remember my head went down, the ground went away, and I just dropped through the earth, and I was just dropping, falling," the E! host recalled on her reality show after learning she had breast cancer during a 2011 mammogram while undergoing a round of in vitro fertilization. But Rancic, who underwent a double lumpectomy and a double mastectomy to treat the cancer, marked a very special milestone just months later: her first Mother's Day with son Edward Duke.
Age at diagnosis: 56
Only weeks after husband Gerald Ford became president in the wake of Richard Nixon's resignation, the first lady was diagnosed with a malignant breast tumor—and broke convention by speaking out about it in the Oct. 7, 1974, issue of Newsweek. "I once asked, 'Why did you come out and discuss your cancer?' " friend Nancy Brinker, who started the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, recalled to People in 2011. "She said, 'People are put on earth to do things like this.' " Ford's candor led to growing awareness among American women, including the practice of early detection, such as mammograms.
Age at diagnosis: 44
Just weeks after calling off her engagement to Lance Armstrong, the singer was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer in February 2006, later undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. "I've had so many people [say to] me, 'Gosh, you know, everything's really gone wrong for you this year,' and it took me going through that to realize that everything really went right for me," she said on The Oprah Winfrey Show. "It brought me to this point where I am now, and I really feel like I have a lot of clarity."
Age at diagnosis: 36
After an initial misdiagnosis, the Australian pop star postponed her Showgirl tour to undergo treatment for breast cancer in 2005. "When you are stripped of everything and you have to grow your eyelashes back, grow your hair back, it's just astonishing," Minogue later opened up in the November 2007 issue of British Glamour. "It's hard to express what I've learned from that, but a deep psychological and emotional shift has obviously taken place."
Age at diagnosis: 40
Six years before the Sex and the City alum shaved her head to portray a cancer patient in Broadway's 2012 production of Wit, Nixon was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram, which she revealed 18 months later when she became an official ambassador for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. "I felt scared," the mother of three told ABC at the time. "And I thought, 'Oh, I don't want this to be happening.' I was very cognizant of if it's going to happen, this is the best way for it to happen—that it's found so early, and we can just get right on it."
Age at diagnosis: 44
"I remember thinking, 'I'm so young. This can't be happening,'" Tierney told People in July 2012, about three years after finding out she had breast cancer in 2009. The diagnosis meant she had to drop out of the NBC show Parenthood, but ultimately, it allowed her to focus on what's important. "I think I always kind of lived in the moment," she said. "But I spend a lot more time with my family now—that's one solid difference."
Age at diagnosis: 54
After revealing on Larry King Live in 2001 that she was battling breast cancer (without chemotherapy), Somers was inspired to put pen to paper in her 2010 book Knockout, in which she explored alternative treatment methods. "Saying the words publicly out loud—'I have cancer'—rocked my soul," she recalled to People of her public announcement.
Age at diagnosis: 39
The ultra-private star only informed family, a few close friends and her bosses at HBO when she was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of breast cancer in 2003. "I don't respond well to the sympathy thing," she told People in 2009, explaining that she filmed The Sopranos around her chemo appointments and donned an identical wig on the show. "We were shooting crazy hours, so I still looked better than everybody else," she joked.
Age at diagnosis: 42
After discovering a lump in her breast, the Today anchor underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in March 2007, which she now credits with helping her better her life. "Staring down the scariest thing that could have happened to me gave me the strength to take on new challenges," she said in 2008 on Today, which provided a platform to document her cancer battle. "When I got back to work, one of the first things I did was walk into my bosses' offices ... to tell them I wanted to be Today 's fourth-hour co-host. Before cancer, I don't think I had the confidence to fight for the position, but now here I am, living my dream job with Kathie Lee every morning."