Fighting Back: Eight Celebs Share Their Cancer Stories
by Danielle Samaniego
This year alone, nearly 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer, according to Cancer.org statistics. The battle against the deadly disease rages on daily, and prevention and awareness is a major part of that effort. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and organizers are pulling out all stops to shed light on the issue, including seeking a little help from celebrity friends who have conquered it. These eight celebrity cancer survivors put a famous face to a non-discriminating disease and used their star-power to inspire others.
1. Christina Applegate
Christina Applegate rose to prominence playing the dumb blonde with the hot body in Married with Children. Though fans eventually moved past her looks to see her actual talent, she’s never stopped paying attention to her own body. In March 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Thanks to the early detection, the Samantha Who? star is now cancer-free (she opted to have a double mastectomy to ensure the cancer couldn’t return). Applegate is an active advocate for early screenings, founding “Right Action for Women,” an organization that helps pay for tests for high-risk young women who can’t afford MRIs.
“I became really passionate about people who are at high risk having the same opportunity to get this sort of testing,” Applegate told Women’s Health magazine this month. “Some insurance companies consider the tests exploratory, which is just ridiculous. I mean, it saved my life!”
2. Sheryl Crow
When Sheryl Crow was diagnosed in early 2006 with breast cancer, she had just come off a break-up with fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
“It was a really personal blow, because I was newly out of a relationship and that made it more difficult to even fathom that I could be diagnosed with cancer,” Crow told Health Magazine this month.
The singer underwent radiation therapy and hasn’t had an issue since, crediting her attitude as a contributing part to her healing process. “This great friend told me one of the gateways to awakening is to allow yourself to experience your emotions,” she said. “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.”
3. Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong was only twenty-five years old when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which was so severe it had spread to his lungs, abdomen, and brain. He had just won the World Cycling Championships and had become the first cyclist to clock the widest winning margin in the history of the U.S. National Road Race Championship. But from October to December 1996, he underwent serious chemotherapy treatment and two surgeries. Doctors told him he had a 50 percent chance of survival.
“They thought it was a tough case, 50/50, coin flip. I don’t want to do it again,” he said in 2007. “I looked at it as if it was a race, a competition, so it was me versus him or her or it, being the disease, and I absolutely hated him/her/it, so when the blood work came back that I was getting better, then I felt like, ‘Well, I’m winning. The scoreboard says I’m winning’ … I really viewed it as a fight.”
It was a fight Armstrong ultimately won, shaking the disease and eventually going on to win the Tour de France for an unparalleled seven years in a row.
4. Melissa Etheridge
In 2005, Melissa Etheridge was on the mend from her chemotherapy treatments (she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2004) when she took to the stage at the Grammys that year. Rocking a bald head while belting out Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” she turned her performance into a national statement on cancer survival.
“I remember when I finally made the choice,” she said on Dateline NBC. “Yeah, I’m going to do it bald. And you know what? Maybe this’ll help somebody who’s sitting in chemo, lying in bed, and going, ‘God, I’m bald.’ Isn’t this weird? Maybe it’ll help them feel a little better. I didn’t know to what extent that would happen. But I’m honored [that the song had such an impact].”
Etheridge wrote her own song about her experience, “I Run for Life,” in an effort to reach others grappling with the same cancer. “It’s an honor that it has become kind of an anthem,” she recently shared with AOL. “It’s something I feel very deeply about because it can be a very isolating illness. When you go through it, there’s a sense of urgency that we have to do something about this … this is so horrible and so awful and it affects way too many of us, so you’re driven, you want to do something.”
5. Tom Green
At the time of his diagnosis, Tom Green was at the height of his comedic career. He had his popular MTV program, The Tom Green Show, and a serious relationship with actress, Drew Barrymore. But in March 2000, Green found out that he had testicular cancer, one of the most common tumors found in men ages fifteen to thirty-five, according to the Urological Sciences Research Foundation.
In his endless quest to find the funny in everything, Green decided to do a cancer special entitled The Tom Green Cancer Special. The show intermingled sage advice and tips with sketches and songs and was listed as one of Time Magazine’s Top Ten TV programs. Green has since made a full recovery.
6. Kylie Minogue
Fans were shocked by Kylie Minogue’s announcement that she would be cancelling the Australian leg of her 2005 “Showgirl” tour to undergo immediate treatment for breast cancer. She faced an eighteen-month battle and came back as a survivor.
“A great part of my coping mechanism was this goal of getting back on stage. I’m not finished. I may have just started to hit my stride,” she told ABC News in 2008. “People tell you, ‘Everything will go back to normal.’ Really? It’s almost insensitive to say that. You move on to a ‘new normal.’ In that small phrase, you’re reassured that there will be some kind of normality, but there’s acknowledgment that you’ve been through something that will change you.”
7. Sharon Osbourne
Though breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer to afflict women, Sharon Osbourne found herself wrestling with a different disease. In July 2002, Osbourne was diagnosed with colon cancer, and she let cameras document her fight against it during the second season of her family’s MTV reality show The Osbournes. Early detection led to a quick recovery, but the experience altered her outlook on life.
“To experience cancer made me re-evaluate my life, myself as a person, things I thought were important in life. I realized I was being very shallow and selfish,” she said in Coping with Cancer magazine in 2007. “Career-wise, it made me realize I could do things I thought I couldn’t do. And if I failed, it really wasn’t that important because my career is not of great importance. It’s a gift, not a priority in my life.”
Osbourne continues to look for ways to help others suffering similar afflictions. In August 2004, she founded the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program at Cedars Sinai Hospital. She’s also part of this year’s “Stand Up to Cancer” campaign (along with the likes of fellow survivor Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge), an organization designed to raise money to find a cure.
8. Robert De Niro
He rarely talks about it, but De Niro is a prostate cancer survivor. After his father passed away of the same disease in 1993, the Goodfellas actor received regular check-ups and was diagnosed in 2003. The early detection allowed him to undergo surgery in time and he is now considered cancer-free.
Survival stories from the rich and famous may bring wide attention to this serious issue, but it also proves that it’s an issue that can affect anyone, regardless of status.
Statistics compiled from the National Center for Policy Analysis suggest that cancer survival rates in the United States fare better than those in Europe for men and women. In terms of breast cancer, the National Cancer Institute proclaims roughly 78 percent of patients between the ages of twenty and forty-nine are surviving their bouts. In short, the battle is still going strong, but it’s far from over.