Despite race or ethnicity, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer found in women in the United States. Tumors can often go unnoticed, and because of the hereditary nature of this cancer, lifestyle can often have little effect over the development of the disease. Because of this, no amount of fame or money can guard against the development of breast cancer. Though, getting a regular mammogram can significantly increase your chance of finding early signs of breast cancer in time for successful treatment.
Read about 15 prominent women who have experienced and overcome the disease, and are active in promoting cancer research and education.
1. Christina Applegate
Diagnosed in 2008 at age 36, this acclaimed American comedy actress underwent a bilateral mastectomy after finding out that she carried the BRCA gene, aka the “breast cancer gene.”
Luckily for Applegate, her malignant tumor was found via an MRI after her doctor determined that the mammogram wasn’t sufficient due to the denseness of her breasts. The cancer was caught early enough so it did not spread to other parts of her body. Since her surgery, Applegate has voiced her dedication to fight for all women’s access to MRIs and genetic testing as guaranteed preventative measures. In an interview on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” she stated:
“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,” she said. “This is my opportunity now to go out and fight as hard as I can for early detection.”
2. Sheryl Crow
This Grammy Award-winning American musician was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, and is now cancer free. Since her recovery, she’s embraced alternative methods of promoting health in her body and mind.
“This great friend told me one of the gateways to awakening is to allow yourself to experience your emotions,” Crow told Health Magazine in 2012. “As Westerners, we’ve gotten adept at suppressing them. It’s always ‘Try not to think about it’ or ‘Keep yourself busy.’ You push all that stuff down, and it manifests itself in other ways, whether it’s stress or disease. So my attitude was to grieve when I felt like grieving, be afraid when I felt like being afraid, and be angry when I felt like being angry. It also helped me to learn to say no to people. That’s been really liberating.”
Crow now practices eating a healthy diet that’s high in omega-3s and fiber, and lives a less stressful life on a farm outside of Nashville with her son Wyatt.
3. Cynthia Nixon
“Get your mammograms and don’t delay,” says “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon.
Diagnosed in 2002, she privately treated her cancer with a lumpectomy and radiation before publicly announcing her diagnosis and becoming an ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 2008. Her mother is also a breast cancer survivor.
4. Kylie Minogue
Australian pop star Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2005 at age 39, just months after being initially cleared — or misdiagnosed, she claims — by her doctor.
“So my message to all of you and everyone at home is, because someone is in a white coat and using big medical instruments doesn’t necessarily mean they are right,” she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2008, advising women to trust their intuition.
5. Olivia Newton-John
First diagnosed in 1992, this Grammy Award-winning singer, actress, and activist underwent a partial mastectomy and chemotherapy before becoming cancer free for 25 years. During that time, she became an advocate of breast cancer awareness, culminating in the building of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia in 2008.
Unfortunately, in May 2017, Newton-John’s cancer returned, metastasizing in her sacrum, with symptoms of back pain. Her next step was to begin receiving photo radiation therapy shortly after.
“I decided on my direction of therapies after consultation with my doctors and natural therapists and the medical team at my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia,” she stated in a press release published on her Facebook page.
6. Julia Louis-Dreyfus
In September 2017, American actress and multiple Emmy Awards winner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, age 56, announced her diagnosis on Twitter:
“1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” she wrote.
Though this is her first diagnosis, she has in the past advocated for cancer research with the Livestrong Foundation, as well as supported environmental causes and green living.
Though Louis-Dreyfus has an exceptional healthcare plan through her union, she realizes that not all women have access to healthcare. She acknowledges her desire for the United States to make universal healthcare available to all.
7. Carly Simon
After being told for years that the lumps in her breasts were nothing to worry about, this American musician finally had the lumps removed, and they turned out to be cancerous. Lucky for her, the cancer hadn’t yet spread to her lymph nodes. She then received chemotherapy, and later had reconstructive surgery.
“It really changes an awful lot of things,” she told an interviewer at Independent. “It allows you to grow a great deal because it makes you accept what’s new and different and maybe a little misshapen or not having testosterone and feeling hot flushes.”
Simon said she takes a pill to keep estrogen from joining any of her cells that would be dangerous, but that that deprives her of testosterone, which is what makes one feel sexy. But she doesn’t let that stop her.
8. Dame Maggie Smith
Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 74 during the filming of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” this knighted English actress insisted on persisting through the filming, even during chemotherapy.
“I was hairless,” Smith told an interviewer at The Telegraph. “I had no problem getting the wig on. I was like a boiled egg.”
Still, Smith continued on to act in the final film of the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
Although admitting that getting breast cancer at her age changed her outlook on her future, she noted at the end of the interview:
“The last couple of years have been a write-off, though I’m beginning to feel like a person now,” she said. “My energy is coming back. S*** happens. I ought to pull myself together a bit.”
9. Suzanne Somers
American actress Suzanne Somers took a holistic approach to her stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis in 2001, prompting her career switch from the entertainment world to motivational speaking and healthy living advocacy.
Getting cancer was the “beginning of a new life for me,” she told an interviewer at Dailymail.com.
Instead of following her surgery with chemotherapy, she famously declined treatment and instead used Iscador, a medicine made from mistletoe, which she injected daily for 10 years, and which she now attributes to her unwavering health.
Additionally, Somers adapted a healthy eating practice — she grows her own organic vegetables — and regular fitness routine composed of yoga, walking, and thigh and leg exercises. She has hopes of having her own talk show.
“My success was and is self-evident. I’m alive. I’ve lived. I’ve thrived and have grown as a person. I'm now healthier than ever. Who can argue with that?”
10. Gloria Steinem
This famous women’s rights activist was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1986, after which she had a lumpectomy.
Discussing the cancer’s affects with interviewer Dave Davies on NPR’s “Fresh Air” in 2016, Steinem noted:
“It made me realize several things. One was - this may sound strange if I try to say it short - but that, actually, I wasn't - I was less afraid of dying than of aging - or not of aging, exactly. I didn’t know how to enter the last third of life because there were so few role models because when I first heard this diagnosis, first, I thought, ironically, oh, so that's how it's going to end, you know? And then I thought to myself, as if it was welling up from the deepest part of me, I’ve had a wonderful life. And I treasure that moment. You know, it meant a lot to me.”
After a successful lumpectomy, Steinem continues to write, lecture, and speak out against women’s injustices all over the world. Her memoir, “My Life on the Road,” was published by Random House in 2016.
11. Robin Roberts
After successfully recovering from breast cancer with a partial mastectomy and chemotherapy in 2007, this news anchor developed myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disease brought on by the cancer treatment. Treatment for MDS requires, ironically, more chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant.
Still, Roberts has worked through her fears and has come out on the other side a changed, stronger person. She is now fully dedicated to her health, faith, and her loved ones.
“I’m not one of those people who say, ‘Cancer is one of the best doggone things that ever happened to me,’” Robin told an interviewer at Good Housekeeping in 2012. “I was appreciating life. But [the disease] has made me far more patient than I’ve ever been in my life. And I’m more in the moment with people.”
12. Judy Blume
Revealing her diagnosis in a blog post, renowned children’s author Judy Blume wrote of the received news of her biopsy from her routine ultrasound:
“Wait – me?” she wrote. “There’s no breast cancer in my family (recent extensive genetic testing shows no genetic connection). I haven’t eaten red meat in more than 30 years. I’ve never smoked, I exercise every day, forget alcohol — It’s bad for my reflux — I’ve been the same weight my whole adult life. How is this possible? Well, guess what — it’s possible.”
At age 74, 6 weeks after her diagnosis, she received a mastectomy, and noted that it was quick and caused very little pain.
“My friends who’ve had breast cancer have been so helpful and supportive I can never thank them enough,” she also wrote. “They got me through this. They were my inspiration. If we can do it, you can do it! They were right. And I got off easy. I don’t need chemo which is a whole other ballgame.”
13. Kathy Bates
Already an ovarian cancer survivor from 2003, award-winning actress Kathy Bates was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2012. She underwent a double mastectomy, from which she also developed lymphedema, a swelling in the body’s extremities. Although there’s no cure for lymphedema, physical therapy and weight loss have helped her drastically with the side effects.
“I’ve joined the ranks of women who are going flat, as they say. I don’t have breasts — so why do I have to pretend like I do? That stuff isn’t important. I’m just grateful to have been born at a time when the research made it possible for me to survive. I feel so incredibly lucky to be alive.”
Bates is now the national spokeswoman for the Lymphatic Education and Research Network (LE&RN), and even meets with members of congress about publicizing the condition.
14. Wanda Sykes
Diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in her left breast in 2011, actress and comedian Wanda Sykes opted for a double mastectomy in order to ensure a healthy life in the future.
“I had both breasts removed, because now I have zero chance of having breast cancer,” she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2011.
Although a double mastectomy isn’t a 100 percent safeguard against a recurrence of breast cancer, it does significantly reduce the odds by about 90 percent.
15. Tig Notaro
Comedian Tig Notaro became famous for performing a transgressive comedy set in 2012 in which she revealed her breast cancer to the audience right after she found out earlier that day.
“Is everybody having a good time?” she said right after she got up on stage. “I have cancer.”
Free from cancer after a double mastectomy and her career now exploding from the success of her comedy, Notaro is now working on a book, writing, directing, and starring in a TV show about her life, and of course, still taking the stage.