After actress Jeanne Tripplehorn accepted the role of Pearl, an oncologist treating a series of breast cancer patients in the new Lifetime original movie “Five”—featuring a handful of moving vignettes about breast cancer directed by the likes of Demi Moore, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Aniston—the actress realized just how confusing the role of an oncologist is and how perplexing the detection-to-treatment process is for most patients. Tripplehorn was initially left with more questions than answers.
Tripplehorn talked to Healthline.com about what she’s uncovered from her work on the all-star film, how to be a good friend to someone battling cancer, the breast cancer gene that runs in her family, and much more.
What drew you to this particular project?
I knew before I read the script that I wanted to be on board. It’s nice to be involved in a project that’s a lot bigger than just a paycheck. I dealt with breast cancer on my mother’s side of the family—my grandmother and my aunt both had breast cancer—and we really rallied around each other. My grandmother had two bouts of breast cancer, but she didn’t succumb to it. My aunt is a breast cancer survivor and she lives with me today.
Since that gene runs in your family, do you take extra precautions?
I absolutely do with things like diet and mammograms. When I started working on this project, I realized that like most women who get wrapped up in their day- to-day lives and don’t put themselves first, it had been a couple of years since I’d had a mammogram. So I immediately went in and got my annual mammogram. My hope is that when people see “Five,” it will remind them at the very least to go in and get their mammogram. It’s the least they can do.
One of the things addressed in the film is that people aren’t always supportive when they learn someone they know has breast cancer. It’s sad but true—many people “disappear” when they learn someone is sick.
Everyone’s different when they’re faced with death. When my grandmother had cancer, I was a teenager, and I remember how after she had her operation, I just didn’t understand it. I was there for her as much as I could be, but not as much as I would be today as an adult.
But I’ve evolved, and I know now that in my life, when people are faced with things—it’s very scary—but I personally have learned from my own experiences that all you have to do is just show up, or make a phone call. That’s really all it takes. But that said, I understand that it can be really intense for some people to do that.
Wanda Sykes hid her breast cancer for two years but came out about it last week, revealing she'd had a double mastectomy. As a public figure, would you take the same tactic?
I’m a really private person, so I would probably keep it quiet for a while because I have a son. I don’t think you should always make everything public in your life, not because of how you feel, but because of family and children. It’s not just always about you. So I’m sure she had some very good reasons for keeping it to herself.
Because of your grandmother and aunt, you knew a lot about breast cancer before “Five.” Did you learn anything new while filming?
Oh yes, a couple of things. It was actually a maze of information trying to find out exactly which doctors to see and where. I was so confused about the process—you get your mammogram, and then the radiologist looks at it, but then who does the biopsy if you need it? Look, I play an oncologist in the movie, and in my research for the role, I was trying to find out where and when an oncologist actually steps in. I had to ask around a lot to get the right answer, and a lot of times, the answers I got were very different.
So I learned that A, they have to simplify that process for women, because I couldn’t figure it out, and B, I learned about cancer almost as a personality. I learned how complex cancer is. I mean, it’s ever changing and I understand that they can’t find the cure for it because it’s so complex. I knew it was complicated, but I had no idea what these research facilities are up against to find a cure, because it’s ever evolving—it changes on a dime.
Do you think the process will become more streamlined in the future?
Jennifer Aniston and [“Five” Executive Producer] Kristin Hahn went to the Inova Breast Care Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, where it’s basically a “one stop shop” for patients. Everything is under one roof—the radiologist, the oncologist—and it makes the process from diagnosis to treatment so much easier. That was very encouraging.
“Five” premieres Monday, Oct. 10 at 9p.m. on Lifetime.