12% of U.S. women are expected to develop breast cancer at some point in their lives — that’s 1 in 8. And in hopes of raising awareness about early prevention and treatment options, many celebrities have shared their breast cancer struggle and hurdles they’ve faced along the way.
These women have been incredibly brave to open up their personal stories to the media, risking personal comfort for the opportunity to show solidarity and share what they wished they’d known at the time of diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis is a bewildering, terrifying, and isolating thing to have happen. For those battling cancer now, these stars are letting them know they’re not alone — and fighting to ensure better statistics than 1 in 8 for future generations.
Here are all the celebrities who have opened up about their breast cancer and how their lives have ben affected.
Shannen Doherty was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2015 and has always been candid about her disease until recently. The 90210 star shared in an interview with Good Morning America that she initially didn’t want to tell anyone her cancer had come back because she didn’t want people thinking her life was over and that she couldn’t still work. “Like, you know, our life doesn’t end the minute we get that diagnosis. We still have some living to do.”
“I definitely have days where I say why me. And then I go, well, why not me? Who else? Who else besides me deserves this? None of us do,” she said. And with all that she has been through, Doherty is using this time to help others who have had or who are going through similar experiences.
“I think the thing I want to do the most right now is I want to make an impact,” she said. “I want to be remembered for something bigger than just me.”
When actress Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, she says it felt like a “total emotional collapse.” Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, Applegate had already been getting regular mammograms. But in 2007, a doctor suggested an MRI instead, due to her naturally dense breast tissue. Sure enough, the MRI revealed early-stage breast cancer, and follow-up genetic testing also showed that Applegate tested positive for the BRCA gene.
Given the option of radiation treatment or a bilateral mastectomy, here’s how Applegate described her thinking on The Oprah Winfrey Show: “Radiation was something temporary, and it wasn’t addressing the issue of this coming back or the chance of it coming back in my left breast,” Applegate told Winfrey. “I sort of had to kind of weigh all my options at that point …It just seemed like, ‘I don’t want to have to deal with this again. I don’t want to keep putting that stuff in my body. I just want to be done with this.’ And I was just going to let them go.”
Applegate had an emotional recovery from the surgery, staging a nude shoot before going under the knife and saying she cries about it “at least once a day.” But she’s determined to use her experience to help other women.
“I am a 36-year-old person with breast cancer, and not many people know that that happens to women my age or women in their 20s,” the Dead to Me star said. “This is my opportunity now to go out and fight as hard as I can for early detection.”
In 2007, Hoda Kotb was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine exam. Kotb had never gotten a mammogram, a choice she now told CancerConnect makes no sense to her: “I wasn’t scared of it. I ask people all the time why they haven’t gotten checked for various things, and here I was not getting screened,” she said in 2018.
The cancer was far enough along that a mastectomy was necessary, but Kotb decided not to undergo chemotherapy since the cancer hadn’t spread to her lymph nodes. The surgery was tough: “They said it was going to feel like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck. Luckily I’ve never had to experience that, but I can see where they’re coming from.”
Kotb followed the surgery with five years of tamoxifen, an estrogen modulator that helps prevent resurgence. As someone who hoped to have children in her future, this came with an emotional side effect: “Probably the hardest part about taking the pills is that they shut down your reproductive system, and I know every night when I take them that I’m contributing to that.”
The Today host shares a revelation from her cancer journey that many other survivors echo: “You get a bad card, but here’s that window that God opens: You can’t scare me. And there’s nothing better than getting that because small things don’t matter as much, because you get rid of the people in your life who are hurting you, because you hold on tight to those who help you; and it’s a moment of complete and total focus because for once in your life you get it.”
In 2017, Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She underwent six round of chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy, sharing her journey with fans as it happened. “One in eight women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” she wrote on Twitter in September.
Describing the moment she was diagnosed, Louis-Dreyfus said this to The New Yorker: “Don’t misunderstand: I was to-my-bones terrified. But I didn’t let myself—except for a couple of moments—go to a really dark place. I didn’t allow it.” She described excruciating side effects of the chemotherapy: the inability to eat, the vomiting and diarrhea, the sores.
The Seinfeld legend wasn’t sure she wanted to be open about such a private experience, but the fact that Veep shut down filming to accommodate her treatment meant that rumors would get out one way or another. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to embrace this and attack it and try to do it with a sense of humor,'” she told Self. “I was really pleased with the reaction.”
In 2011, actress and comedian Wanda Sykes shared her breast cancer diagnosis on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. After going in for a breast reduction, Sykes says the necessary lab work revealed something unexpected: “They found that I had DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ] in my left breast. I was very, very lucky because DCIS is basically stage-zero cancer. So I was very lucky.”
Sykes was given a choice: she could take a “wait and see” approach, or she could take action to remove the cancer. “I had the choice of, you can go back every three months and get it checked. Have a mammogram, MRI every three months just to see what it’s doing,” she told DeGeneres. “But, I’m not good at keeping on top of stuff. I’m sure I’m overdue for an oil change and a teeth cleaning already.”
Partly also due to her family history of breast cancer, she decided to have a bilateral mastectomy, describing her decision like this: “I had both breasts removed … because now I have zero chance of having breast cancer … It sounds scary upfront, but what do you want? Do you want to wait and not be as fortunate when it comes back and it’s too late?”
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In 2006, musician Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with “estrogen-positive stage 1 invasive breast cancer,” per an interview with Samantha Brodsky in October 2019. The lump was discovered during a mammogram, after which Crow underwent a biopsy, lumpectomy, and seven weeks of radiation.
It was a time of serious reflection for Crow: “Part of my challenge with being diagnosed was to put myself first, to learn how to say no, and to learn how to listen to my body when it came to exhaustion, and to not take care of everyone. To actually put my oxygen mask on before I put anybody else’s on in order to save my own life.”
Crow wants women to know more about risk factors: While she doesn’t have a family history of breast cancer, she does have dense breasts, which put her at an increased risk for developing breast cancer. Now, Crow is more than 10 years cancer-free, and reflecting on what her journey meant to her: “My joy has never been more intact than now. The last 10 years, not only has my life been enhanced, but just my ability to be in my life and to enjoy my life and to not sweat the small stuff, I think, is directly correlated to having survived breast cancer.”
In 2015, Food Network star Sandra Lee found out she had early-stage breast cancer (specifically, DCIS). After weighing her options, she decided to undergo a double mastectomy, despite the cancer only being in one breast at the time. “I didn’t want to take any chances,” she says in her 2019 HBO documentary, Rx Early Detection: A Cancer Journey with Sandra Lee. “My cancer was in three separate places, and there was the possibility it could come back in the other breast.”
While the surgery was successful and Lee required no further treatment for the cancer, she struggled emotionally and physically in the weeks that followed, later developing a life-threatening infection in one breast that left her bedridden. she developed an infection in one breast months later that left her bedridden. “I couldn’t leave the house — I couldn’t even move, I was in so much pain,” she shares.
Now, Lee has dedicated herself to sharing resources and raising awareness about early detection. Along with her illuminating documentary, Lee worked hard to pass New York State’s No Excuses law, an advanced cancer-screening program. “The earlier you catch it, the longer you get to live,” Lee says. “Period. End of story.”
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Ct scan to do mapping for radiation plan. This scared me so much. Not sure why. Was supposed to get it with contrast but the minute they started looking at which vein to use I started crying. Full panic attack. Sometimes, you just get sick of being poked. And that's ok. I cried. I felt sorry for myself for a minute. Then stopped and reminded myself of how lucky I am. Thank God my new radiation oncologist decided to try without contrast so I would calm down. So…. one panic attack down and mapping done!! Now to actually start radiation… #cancerslayer #warrior #fightlikeagirl #blessed
Beverly Hills, 90210 star Shannen Doherty was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. In August 2016, she discovered the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and beyond, necessitating chemotherapy and radiation, along with an earlier single mastectomy.
Throughout her breast cancer battle, Doherty posted to Instagram photos of various milestones: her hair loss, her chemotherapy sessions, and the community that supported her. More than just what was happening, though, Doherty shared how she was feeling — the anxiety, the terror, the self-pity, and everything in between.
“It was just about being as honest as possible,” the actress told Health. And then it became very important to me that I was there for people who were going through it. I would never give medical advice because I’m not a doctor, but I would always say, ‘Advocate for yourself.'”
Today, Doherty is in remission, having undergone reconstructive surgery in 2017 after the conclusion of her treatments. She shared some of the effects that are still hard to overcome: “The hormones I went on threw my body into menopause instantly. My metabolism came to a screeching halt, and I put on a ton of weight. Chemo also put on weight for me. Plus, the chemo and radiation drain collagen right out of your skin, so you age really quickly. For me, the hardest part is the scars. Every time I get out of the shower, I look, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I’m Frankenstein.'”
But mostly, Doherty focuses on how grateful she is to be alive and healthy: “It’s the little things that are making me laugh. The expressions on my dog’s face. My husband playing air guitar as we walk down the street. It’s all those little moments, the ones that make me smile and feel very joyful that I’m still here to enjoy them.”
The Grease star is currently fighting cancer for the third time and revealed in 2019 that she was living with stage 4 cancer. In 1992, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer; in 2013, she found cancer in the shoulder; and now, the cancer has spread to her back. In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, Newton-John reflected on how she deals with her current diagnosis.
“When you’re given a cancer diagnosis or a scary honest diagnosis, you’re suddenly given a possibility of a time limit,” the performer said. “If somebody tells you, you have six months to live, very possibly you will because you believe that. So for me, psychologically, it’s better not to have any idea of what they expect, or what the last person that has what you have lived, so I don’t tune in.”
After her first diagnosis, the star underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy, and reconstructive surgery. She founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Center to help support people battling cancer both through research initiatives and wellness programs for patients.
(1/2) Hey All, sorry for the long silence. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 months ago & am recovering from a double mastectomy.
(1/2) Hey All, sorry for the long silence. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 months ago & am recovering from a double mastectomy.
— Kathy Bates (@MsKathyBates) September 12, 2012
Kathy Bates was no stranger to breast cancer when she got her diagnosis: both her mother and aunt were survivors, and Bates had felt for a while that a diagnosis was likely coming. But it wasn’t her first diagnosis: In 2003, Bates was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer, for which she underwent nine rounds of chemotherapy.
Bates told Yahoo early this year how tough her first diagnosis had been: “I’m very open and direct so it was hard for me not to talk to people about it. But at the same time, I withdrew from all of the activities that I had in my life …I don’t think I really came out about being a cancer survivor until I developed breast cancer in 2012.”
In 2012, an MRI revealed Bates’s breast cancer — which she says she took even harder than her first experience with cancer. “Breast cancer was much more difficult for me than the ovarian…Obviously, losing one’s breast on the outside of the body is much more noticeable. And I was in a lot of pain, which I wasn’t with ovarian.”
And the difficulties didn’t stop once she beat the cancer: The Misery star developed lymphedema, which she describes as a “souvenir of cancer.” She describes the condition like this: “The doctors remove lymph nodes to keep the cancer from spreading. If the lymph nodes have been damaged or traumatized in any way, you’re at risk for lymphedema. [It causes] pain, swelling, you tend to isolate. So it’s psychologically so damaging …It was almost worse than having the cancer.”
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Today marks my official 10 year 'all clear' from breast cancer. Naturally, my nearest and dearest were at the forefront of my mind. Behind the tears were relief and thanks and thoughts. Thoughts of all those who are making their way towards this landmark, those who are past the landmark and of those who we sadly miss. Thank you just doesn't say enough. The @londonmarathon is coming up and @joshuasasse will be running it to raise funds for Breast Cancer Care @breast_cancer_care (He has never run a marathon before! 🙈) #Lovers, please support him so we can raise as much as possible! You can sponsor him at virginmoneygiving.com/RunSasseRun 💖 I love you all and send love to you all.
In 2005, singer Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer. But a few weeks before that, she was misdiagnosed. On The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Minogue revealed that she was initially told she was clear after a mammogram, but then discovered a lump weeks later that turned out to be breast cancer after a lumpectomy. “Early diagnosis and prompt treatment is the key for any woman diagnosed with breast cancer,” Minogue now advises.
The singer underwent surgery and chemotherapy — but one of the hardest aspects of her recovery has been accepting that she’s unlikely to have children. “I don’t want to dwell on it, obviously, but I wonder what would have been like,” she told London’s Sunday Times. “I just have to be as philosophical about it as I can. You’ve got to accept where you are and get on with it.”
Betsey Johnson discovered a lump in her breast a few weeks after surgery to remove her breast implants — a decision she tells Bustle was long overdue. After finding a “grape-sized” lump, Johnson rushed to a clinic: “When you go get a mammogram or sonogram and they don’t let you go home, you know you’re in trouble …That’s what happened.”
In 1999, Johnson had a lumpectomy. She also underwent weeks of radiation, all the while keeping her diagnosis a secret from everyone close to her, including her own daughter. Here’s why she decided to keep this massive secret: “My biggest fear was that people were gonna think I was going to die …That I wasn’t going to pay my bills. That I’m not going to design. That I’m not going to feel good. That it was over.”
It was until late 2000 that Johnson shared her diagnosis with friends and family, sharing her story with the public a few days later. Then and now, Johnson’s goal in going public was to keep the focus on survival — and early detection. “I still try to remember to tell [customers], ‘Get your damn mammogram. Don’t fool around with this. Just get it done,'” she says. “I love being a real advocate, really pushing my customers to take care of business. Don’t be scared of it. Just get tested. If you’ve got it, do something about it.”
In 2006, Cynthia Nixon was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. But she didn’t take it too hard: “I’ve learned that if you catch breast cancer early, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you’ll be cured. So my attitude, which very much mirrored my mother’s, was this wasn’t a big deal,” Nixon said in 2008. Her mother was a breast cancer survivor, and had caught the breast cancer at a similarly early stage to Nixon’s.
Given her family history, Nixon had been getting yearly mammograms since age 35, which helped with her early detection. “‘The doctor said the tumor was so small, he wouldn’t have even noticed it except for the fact that it wasn’t there on previous X-rays,” she explained. After her diagnosis, she had six weeks of radiation and a lumpectomy, all of which she completed without missing a performance of a play she was in at the time.
In 2014, Nixon’s mother died from breast cancer, which had returned 35 years after her first diagnosis. In 2016, Nixon spoke at the Breast Cancer Foundation Gala about her mother’s struggle, and why she’s fighting for breast cancer awareness today: “Breast cancer is beatable. It’s the most beatable cancer out there. We have to check ourselves and get the mammograms …. My mother brought me up to believe that a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.”
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Four years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had so many different thoughts. You’re scared, anxious, you think about your own mortality. So I had a serious discussion with my husband that if anything happens, I wanted him to be super sad for a very long time 😊 and I’d also like a party, a celebration. Out of that story, I wrote ‘Throw Me a Party’ with @lizrose0606 and @kristianbush —3 DAYS until my new album #halfwaytohome is released. #throwmeparty #music #singer #songwriter
In 2015, actress Rita Wilson shared with People that she had recently received a breast cancer diagnosis: Here was her statement, which preached the importance of getting a second opinion when you feel something isn’t right:
Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma. I am recovering and most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion.
I have had an underlying condition of LCIS, (lobular carcinoma in situ) which has been vigilantly monitored through yearly mammograms and breast MRIs. Recently, after two surgical breast biopsies, PLCIS (pleomorphic carcinoma in situ) was discovered. … I was relieved when the pathology showed no cancer.
However, a friend who had had breast cancer suggested I get a second opinion on my pathology and my gut told me that was the thing to do. A different pathologist found invasive lobular carcinoma. His diagnosis of cancer was confirmed by, yet, another pathologist. I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health …I hope this will encourage others to get a second opinion and to trust their instincts if something doesn’t ‘feel’ right.
In 2019, Wilson reflected on the past four, cancer-free years: “I had so many different thoughts. You’re scared, anxious, you think about your own mortality. So I had a serious discussion with my husband that if anything happens, I wanted him to be super sad for a very long time. And I’d also like a party, a celebration.”
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Blown away by the researchers empowered and funded by @bcrfcure at the New York Symposium & Awards Luncheon. The event raised $2.5 million for lifesaving research. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Breast Cancer Research Foundation) ———— #BCRF #findacure #breastcancerawareness #breastcancersurvivor #breastcancerresearch #breastcancerfighter #mammogramssavelives #cancerawareness #luncheon #hiltonmidtown #gettyimages #symposium #breastcancersupport #octoberbreastcancerawareness #supportbreastcancer
When Amy Robach was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive breast cancer, she felt like her world was ending. “I did not handle it gracefully or stoically at all — I completely fell apart. I think there was a gasp,” she told Cure Today in 2018. “It shook me to my core.”
It was actually an on-air mammogram on Good Morning America that led to Robach’s cancer being discovered — which, to an extent, forced Robach to go through the experience publicly. “It was scary to be public, but I don’t know how I would have gotten through it if I didn’t have the support from thousands of women who were writing, emailing, texting and tweeting me,” she said of the experience. “It felt beautiful.”
She underwent a double mastectomy (against her doctor’s advice), many rounds of chemotherapy, and remains on tamoxifen to this day. She continued working throughout chemo treatments, which she says helped her keep her head together. “It was important to me to be something other than a cancer patient, and going to work gave me something to wake up for that wasn’t cancer-related.”
But the physical and mental effects shook her to her core nonetheless: You lose your memory, and you don’t really remember what you’re doing…Hot flashes, mood swings, battling weight gain — it feels very overwhelming. I felt like I turned 40 and lost 20 years. I had to mourn the loss of who I was before and accept who I am now physically,” she recalls. “I was told and warned that when your treatments are over, you’re not going to be celebrating. You might for one day, but then the fear hits you. I’d see grandparents playing with their grandchildren and have dark thoughts: “Will I know mine? Will I play with mine? Will I be that old?”
Her advice to cancer patients now? “There is life during cancer treatments, and there is life after cancer treatments.” Personally, she’s trying to live each moment to the fullest: “I live like I’m dying. I know it sounds like a country music song, but it is how I live. That’s how I have inspired my children to live. Everyone around me lives better. We do what we want to do now — we don’t say 10 years from now.”
Suzanne Sommers has become known for her suggestion of alternative treatments since her cancer diagnosis. In 2001, she revealed that she was taking a mistletoe extract supplement to boost her immune system after a lumpectomy and radiation therapy to treat her breast cancer.
In her 2012 book Knockout, Sommers talks about her choice to pursue nontraditional treatment: “When you receive a cancer diagnosis, you’re more vulnerable than at any other time in your life. I’ve personally had the experience twice…My only hope for survival was alternatives. But that was my decision, what I thought was best for me.”
Sommers knows that her experience isn’t the same as everyone’s, but her interactions with patients benefiting from these treatments inspired her to become a spokesperson: “I am not a doctor or a scientist, but merely a passionate layperson, a filter, a messenger. I spoke with so many patients who are living normal, happy, fulfilled lives, and their enthusiasm and great quality of life convinced me that you can indeed live with cancer.”
“The moment a doctor says ‘We have bad news’ is life-changing. For me, time stopped. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t breathe,” she reflects. “It was very important for me to keep my diagnosis under the radar, even from the cast and crew of The Sopranos, because well-meaning people would have driven me crazy asking, ‘How are you feeling?’ I would have wanted to say, ‘I’m scared, I don’t feel so good, and my hair is falling out.'”
While initially terrified, Falco quickly set herself to the task of getting through treatment, however she could. “I thought: I am a strong woman. I have resources to get good treatment, so why not me? Perhaps, better me than some single mother of three kids who is working three jobs. I know I can handle this.”
While undergoing chemotherapy, Falco did what she needed to stay afloat, including trying to exercise, wearing “crazy little hats with hair attachment” to avoid freaking out about hair loss and eating whatever “fatty foods” she could keep down.
In 2004, Falco had been in remission for a while: “When the cancer went into remission, I was relieved, of course, but it was also strangely depressing,” the actress reflects. “As long as you’re showing up at a cancer hospital every week, you know someone has an eye on you. When they say “OK, good luck,” it occurs to you you’re really on your own, and its a bit nerve-wracking.”
So, what did she do next? Her body was sending her a clear message: “Every cell in my body needed and wanted to be a mother,” she says. She adopted her son Anderson, even with all her uncertainty about what the future might hold. “Every day my life surprises me, just like my cancer diagnosis surprised me,” she says. “But you roll with it. That’s our job as humans.”
— alice (@grangershug) December 28, 2018
In 2008, Downton Abbey star Maggie Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump on her breast. “I didn’t think it was anything serious because years ago I felt a lump and it was benign…I assumed this would be too. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails, and I don’t know what the future holds, if anything. I don’t think there’s a lot of it, because of my age — there just isn’t. It’s all been. I’ve no idea what there will be.”
She says that discovering this cancer at a later age made it difficult to bounce back: “It takes you longer to recover, you are not so resilient. I am fearful of the amount of energy one needs to be in a film or a play.”
Nonetheless, Smith famously continued filming Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. “I was hairless. I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg,” she recalled. Of chemotherapy (which she said was “worse than the cancer itself), she said this: “You feel horribly sick. I was holding on to railings, thinking ‘I can’t do this.'”
As of 2009, Smith was just starting to feel back to normal — whatever that means. “The last couple of years have been a write-off, though I’m beginning to feel like a person now, she shared. “My energy is coming back. S*** happens. I ought to pull myself together a bit.”