“I had a feeling of detachment,” Dickinson, 61, tells PEOPLE of being diagnosed with the disease in May.
And then the fear set in.
“There was no self-pity, but I worried about leaving my family,” she says. “I worried I wasn’t going be attractive to my amazing and supportive fiancé, [Dr. Robert “Rocky” Gerner].”
Dickinson acknowledges her fears are shared by other women who have faced similar diagnoses and now – after undergoing eight weeks of radiation and two lumpectomies – she wants to share what she has learned.
“I have to shout from the top of my lungs, ‘These are sacred lives that we’ve been blessed to have and we have to take care of ourselves,’ ” says Dickinson. “Life is amazing but it can be cut short if you don’t take your health into your own hands. If you feel something’s not right, get a second opinion. Be afraid. And let that fear fuel your fight against this mother f—ing disease.”
Dickinson says she “knew something was wrong” months before going to the doctor.
“For about eight or nine months, I just wasn’t feeling the same,” she says. “I didn’t have that same get-up-and-go. I’m an avid walker but friends would say, lets go for a walk and I didn’t want to. I just felt off.”
She also admits she hadn’t been doing her self-exams as often as she should have been.
“My breast was tender, but I didn’t do anything,” says Dickinson. “It’s like a toothache, you need to get it checked out.”
After getting her cancer diagnosis from her internist at the University of California at Los Angeles, Dickinson says she spent 10 days “in a very weird head space.”
“I worried about my sexuality, my femininity. I worried I would have to have a double mastectomy,” she says.
But once she had a plan of action – two lumpectomies and two months of radiation – Dickinson says she was ready “to kick the bricks.”
“As soon as I went to see the machines at the oncology unit, I was just able to go through this process of become proactive. It all finally made sense,” she says.”I’ve had side effects from the radiation. And I have a tiny bit of scarring. But I’ve been lucky. They’ve told me I can keep my implants.”
According to New York City plastic surgeon Barry M. Weintraub, MD, FACS, a diplomat for the American Board of Plastic Surgery who works with RealSelf, it’s generally better to leave breast implants in during breast cancer treatment, though it depends on the location of the tumor, and where the implants were placed.
“If the implants are not in the target of the surgical dissection or the radiation, the basic party line is: If they don’t bother you, then you don’t bother them,” Dr. Weintraub tells PEOPLE. “Especially if the implants are behind the muscle, where they should be. The tumor would be in the breast gland, and it typically goes ribs, implants, pectoralis major muscle, breast gland, and then nipple.”
“If they’re not in the way, leave them in.”
Dickinson says she’s at peace with the ordeal.
“They say there’s usually a bit of anger involved but I haven’t gotten to the anger part yet,” adds Dickinson. “There’s nothing to be angry about. I’m just grateful for great doctors and an amazing support system of family and friends.”
Dickinson has completed her prescribed round of radiation but she’s yet to be declared breast cancer-free. Still, she’s already looking to get preemptively tested for other cancers, especially because her mother died in her sixties after battling anal cancer. Dickinson is undergoing tests – including a colonoscopy – at Med Bar in Beverly Hills.
“I don’t want to have the question mark,” explains Dickinson. “If I have it, I want to know. I want to know that I am playing a part in living and driving my own bus.” And she encourages other people to get tested early as well.
“Janice has been so proactive about her health, which is so refreshing to see,” says Dr. Maz Ghodsian, who administered the colonoscopy. “This disease doesn t discriminate between gender or age or sexual orientation, so it’s important that everyone over the age of 50 get tested – even younger if you have a family history like Janice does.”
Dickinson hopes that by being diligent in monitoring her health, she can live the full life she wants with her fiancé, her son Nathan, 29, and her daughter Savannah, 22.
“This battle isn’t behind me. But I will be like a phoenix walking through the ashes. I will see my grandchildren get married,” she says. “And I have a new purpose: to make sure people get tested. If I can reach just one person, I’ve done my job.”