While Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general have a veneer of perfection in front of them, even those worlds are not free from the disease of cancer. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s important to put a face on those who have struggled with breast cancer. This article will put a focus on the artists who have history with cancer and have recovered from it.
Singer Melissa Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her family has a history of cancer, with her father, aunt and grandmother all passing away from the disease. Etheridge went through a lumpectomy as well as five chemotherapy and radiation sessions. “I had been running along in my life at a fast pace. When I heard it was cancer, I just stood still,” she told Shape Magazine in an interview which took place after Etheridge became cancer free. Ultimately, her experience breast cancer gave her a new perspective on life.
“My life passed over me like a big wave, and after, I was left there standing. This turned out to be a very good thing. I stopped. I looked at my life, I looked at my body and spirit. I got a new perspective. That’s brought me incredible clarity and a lot of peace.”
At the 2005 Grammy Awards, Etheridge, who was nominated that year, performed a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” Etheridge, who was bald from chemotherapy treatment at the time, had just finished her treatment and wasn’t sure she would be well enough to perform. But as she told Dateline’s Stone Phillips, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6994469/ns/dateline_nbc/t/melissa-etheridges-brave-comeback/“I couldn’t have sat here and watched someone else singing Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece of My Heart.’ That’d killed me.”
Etheridge called chemotherapy “the closest to death I’ve ever been. The chemotherapy takes you as far down into hell as you’ve ever, ever been.” What got her through it was her partner Tammy Lynn Michaels, who Etheridge married in 2003. “This one has a gift of humor and comedy,” says Etheridge of Michaels. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, she’d say ‘Well hello cancer pants.”
Ultimately, Etheridge says dealing with breast cancer was a good thing: “I have never known such love, and good energy that is coming to me every day. Every moment…I have taken every poisonous thing out of my life.”
Singer Sheryl Crow, who dated cancer survivor Lance Armstrong from 2003 to 2006, was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She had no family history with the disease. She first went through “minimally invasive” surgery and then underwent radiation treatment and was cancer free until 2011, when an MRI scan discovered a benign tumor, which is said to be linked to her breast cancer. Studies show that there is a connection between meningiomas, the type of benign tumor Crow has, and breast cancer, with women in their 50s and 60s being susceptible. Crow herself is 50. The tumor hasn’t grown larger, so surgery is not needed as yet.
In 2003, while “The Sopranos” was in its fourth season, actress Edie Falco was diagnosed with breast cancer. Falco had said that having cancer made her rethink her life, leading her to adopt a baby in 2005.
In an interview with Health Magazine, Falco says that during her chemotherapy treatments, she kept her diagnosis secret from the cast of crew of “The Sopranos.” “My good friend, Ilene Landress, the show’s producer, kept things quiet by working my schedule around my treatments. With the cancer a secret, I bucked up, put on my Carmela fingernails, and was ready to work.”
Falco said when the cancer went in to remission, it was “strangely depressing” because it felt that she was on her own since no doctors wouldn’t be lookng after her anymore. This was when she started to pursue her dream of starting a family and began the adoption process, adopting a baby boy named Anderson in 2005.
Legendary child star Shirley Temple Black, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972, was one of the first well known figures to come out and talk about the disease, resulting in many letters of support from fans. She underwent a radical mastectomy, which has made her cancer free ever since. After the operation she said “It was an amputation, and I faced it.”
Unlike Temple, not everyone receives support during their experiences with cancer. Singer Carly Simon said having cancer took a toll on both her personal and professional life. “There’s a bigger story about the breast cancer than the cancer. It’s about relationships… I wasn’t treated well. I think I was let go of certain jobs and affiliations.” Simon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and underwent a mastectomy.
Simon says that when she went to the Grammys after she was diagnosed, many people ignored and avoided her. “It’s like there were masks on. I had disappeared in the audience,” she says. During her recovery she wrote the autobiographical album “The Bedroom Tapes.”
“Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon, who was diagnosed in 2006, wanted to keep her illness secret, only wishing open up about it when she was healthy. In 2008, after she became cancer-free, she revealed that she had been sick on “Good Morning America.” Afterwards she became an Ambassador for Susan G. Komen For the Cure.
Actress Christina Applegate had both breasts removed in a procedure known as prophylactic double mastectomy after cancerous lumps were found in one of her breasts in 2008. Fortunately for Applegate, the cancerous tumors were found in their early stages. Applegate, who at the time was starring in the sitcom “Samantha Who?” kept her diagnosis quiet. The day after being diagnosed, Applegate went to an oncologist and a surgeon, and told them, “I’m a Sagittarius. We need things done now. So, for me, I had to get in now, and I wanted to have my surgery now.”
Applegate had her first lumpectomy within a week and afterwards was told she needed six weeks of radiation treatment. She then discovered that radiation was only a temporary solution and it wouldn’t stop the cancer from coming back. Applegate had the options of either continuing to get radiation treatments and being tested for the rest of her life, or get both her breasts removed. She chose the latter. “I met with my doctor, and I told him that was my decision. He brought the surgeon in, and it was like it was the floodgates just opened up and I lost it.”
Applegate went on to fight for women’s rights to MRIs and genetic testing, which aren’t always pay for by insurance companies.
Like Etheridge and Falco, dealing with breast cancer helped Applegate reprioritize her life: “I used to say… ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff — not even the big stuff.’ At the end of the day, none of it matters but your own joy, your own spiritual journey that you go on, God, your loved ones, your friends, your animals. These are the things you’ve got to cherish and love and embrace.”
Many of these women have been able to take the terrifying reality of cancer and turn it in to something positive, showing that the darkest of circumstances can help us change our lives and make us better people. Support from loved ones was also important to these women, whether it was fans or friends and life partners. While there’s still no definite cure for breast cancer, or any other kind of cancer, the fact people can survive, that these women survived, is a ray of hope in the face of this disease.