It’s a scary, startling reality that most of us have been hit with, even from afar: someone we know is diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, scientific research and advances in the field of medicine have significantly reduced the death rate, but the process of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, and mustering up the courage and strength to stand up and fight it, takes a serious toll on patients and their family and friends.
Celebrities are no exception to the cruel nature of this disease. Many have used their public persona as a podium for spreading awareness and encouraging other women and men to be their biggest health advocate.
Here are seven inspiring stories of celebrities who have survived breast cancer and their inspiring messages of hope:
Most of us know her as Veronica Corningstone, her hilarious character opposite Will Ferrell in Anchorman, but this stunning actress has been in the spotlight for decade—from her role as a teen in the sitcom Married…With Children to her Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated performance in Samantha Who? So when she came out with a breast cancer diagnosis at the ripe age of 36, the world was shocked.
After trying to keep her disease under wraps, she took her personal battle public to raise awareness among young women who may not realize they’re at risk. “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 in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. “This is my opportunity now to go out and fight as hard as I can for early detection.”
Her soft and carefree voice has soothed us since childhood, but this rockstar has a much tougher side to her than her music lets on. After going for a routine breast exam at the age of 44, Crow was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in her left breast. Thankfully, after a lumpectomy and seven weeks of radiation therapy, she remains cancer-free.
But the disease has left a lasting imprint on her life. A life-long fitness fanatic, Crow realized that cancer can happen to anyone—regardless of how well you take care of yourself—and that only other preventative measures we can take is awareness.
“Make sure you know your family history, know the terrain of your breasts and be diligent about getting a yearly mammogram, ” she told People. “The cure rate at five years is 100 percent with an early-detected breast cancer.” Cancer also taught her to put herself first. “I kept my breast cancer tattoos—where the radiation was lined up on my chest. Once in a while I look at it to remind myself that I have to put on my oxygen mask first before I put it on anybody else,” she said in an interview with Health.
At age 12, the Sex and the City star watched her mother successfully battle breast cancer and she always thought she’d likely become diagnosed with the disease as well. And, unfortunately, she was right. Between the HBO hit series coming to a close in 2004 and her performance in the off-Broadway play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (which earned her a Tony!), Nixon went for her annual mammogram. Her worst fears has come true: She had breast cancer.
“I felt scared…I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want this to be happening.’ I was very cognizant of, if it’s going to happen, this is the best way for it to happen, that it’s found so early and we can just get right on it,” she told ABC News. Now doing well, Nixon looks back at how Sex and the City once tackled the topic of breast cancer, when Samantha’s character was diagnosed, and says they handled her story “beautifully.”
The official spokesman for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, Nixon says she looks forward to a bright future where women are filled with more awareness about breast cancer. “I want them [women] most to hear me saying that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. So the only thing to really be afraid of is if you don’t go get your mammograms, because there’s some part of you that doesn’t want to know, and that’s the thing that’s going to trip you up. That’s the thing that could have a really bad endgame.”
Unlike many women diagnosed with breast cancer, comedian Wanda Sykes didn’t find out through a routine mammogram. In fact, she went in to get a breast reduction in February 2011, when she was told she had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), a non-invasive type of breast cancer. “My first thought was, ‘Really? Me, breast cancer?’ I just couldn’t believe it,” she told People. “But I knew this was doable.”
After undergoing a bilateral mastectomy that August, she went home to recover with her wife, Alex. She described the experience as just wanting her old life back. And, thankfully, just a month later, she returned to the stage with a stand-up tour, noting the importance of having her friends and family in the audience, including her then-two-year-old twins, Olivia and Lucas. “They were a huge part of my decision because I wanted to be around for them,” she said.
While most people consider breast cancer to be a “women’s disease,” it can affect men. It is, however, quite uncommon, accounting for only 1 percent of those diagnosed with breast cancer. So when former Kiss drummer Peter Criss revealed he was diagnosed with the disease back in 2008, the world was shocked.
Thankfully, he found it early through self-detection, when he noticed a painful lump in his chest while exercising. Now cancer-free, Kriss now gets monthly mammograms and dedicates a great deal of energy towards helping bring awareness to the fact that men can get breast cancer. “So many people must die from this,” Criss told CNN. “Somebody has to step up to the plate and say something to get them aware of how dangerous this is. Lots of men die: They wait, they don’t go in, they put it off. Don’t sit around playing Mr. Tough Guy. Don’t say ‘It’s going to go away.’ It’s just important, just go get checked out. It’s not like you’re going to lose your manhood.”
The E! star and red carpet host discovered she had breast cancer while undergoing in vitro fertilization in 2011. At just 37 years old, this was the last thing Rancic expected as she looked forward to creating a family with husband Bill Rancic. Instead of keeping her unfortunate situation private, she decided to share her breast cancer journey on her reality TV show, Giuliana and Bill.
While appearing on the Lorraine show, the star opened up about her darkest moments. “I was at the lowest. I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I’d been trying to have a baby for four years and I think sometimes you have to get to your darkest point in life and then the brightest light just appears and that’s when the good news come.”
After first undergoing a double lumpectomy, Rancic went on to have a full double mastectomy just two months later, and welcomed her son, Edward Duke, via gestational carrier, less than a week after surgery. Now the actress is heavily involved in spreading breast cancer awareness and even started the Fab-U-Wish charity, which helps give women undergoing treatment for breast and ovarian cancer a chance to live out their dreams. “I’m grateful to be where I am today—a new mother, feeling strong and healthy, and in a position to help other women now going through what I did,” she told E! Online.
Lately, we recognize her wit and humor from her role as Marnie’s mom on HBO’s Girls, but Rita Wilson has graced the big screen for decades, appearing in hit films like Sleepless in Seattle, Now and Then, Runaway Bride and many more. She’s also famously married to Hollywood hitmaker Tom Hanks, who was by her side when she faced the frightening reality that she had breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she told People how “blessed” she felt to have the support and love of her spouse.
“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.”