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LISTEN TO YOUR FRIENDS
Just because your pal isn't a doctor doesn't mean her advice shouldn't be taken into consideration. When Andy Cohen's friend Kelly Ripa noticed a black spot on his lip, she recommended he see a dermatologist, fearing the mark could be a sign of skin cancer. Cohen put off the visit, but after Ripa repeatedly reminded him to get it checked out, he finally caved — and learned that the dot was melanoma. "They removed it, the whole thing, and I just want to thank you because you were so dogmatic," he told her while guest co-hosting Live with Kelly. "No, honestly. And it's all fine, but that's a good friend … you really helped me out there. And thank you for staying on me."
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LEARN TO LOVE AND APPRECIATE YOUR BODY
Cobie Smulders recently opened up about her 2015 topless photo shoot for the cover of Women's Health, revealing that overcoming ovarian cancer in 2008 allowed her to better appreciate and love her body. "It was a very strange day. I was standing in front of a camera lens in my underwear and holding my breasts, all while trying to appear not sexy but confident, not flirtatious but gleamingly positive," Smulders wrote in an essay for Lenny about the 2015 photo shoot. "It all made me start thinking about this body that I’m in. And what it has been through. And suddenly this bizarre invitation became an opportunity to share some insight from my experience of being diagnosed with, receiving treatment for, and eventually learning to cure my cancer."
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GET TESTED AT YOUR ANNUAL CHECKUPS
During a standard checkup, Ben Stiller's doctor administered a controversial Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test that would end up saving his life. Because of the test's results, Stiller, who had no symptoms or family history of prostate cancer, was able to receive an early diagnosis and successful treatment. "If I hadn't gotten the test, my doctor started giving it to me at 46, I still wouldn't know. I wanted to talk about it because of the test, because I feel like the test saved my life," the actor shared on The Howard Stern Show. In an essay for Medium, Stiller explained why some members of the medical field avoid the PSA test. "The criticism of the test is that depending on how they interpret the data, doctors can send patients for further tests like the MRI and the more invasive biopsy, when not needed," he wrote. "But without this PSA test itself, or any screening procedure at all, how are doctors going to detect asymptomatic cases like mine, before the cancer has spread and metastasized throughout one's body rendering it incurable?" Ultimately, Stiller urges readers to take advantage of the potentially lifesaving prostate test: "This is a complicated issue, and an evolving one. But in this imperfect world, I believe the best way to determine a course of action for the most treatable, yet deadly cancer, is to detect it early."
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CONNECT WITH OTHERS IN YOUR SITUATION
"I first started to wonder if I had an issue, so I read other people's books, and they helped me enormously," Elizabeth Vargas told PEOPLE about her "deeply personal" struggle with alcoholism. "It's very scary to put it out there, but if I can help one person feel less alone, then I'm really happy about that." The 20/20 anchor will release her first book, Between Breaths: A Memoir of Anxiety and Addiction, in September.
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SYMPTOMS CAN BE SUBTLE
After being blindsided by her Lyme Disease diagnosis, Crystal Hefner took to Instagram to spread the word about the not-always-obvious symptoms of the condition and the elusive process of contraction. "I was diagnosed a few days ago and have a long road ahead of me. Supposedly you get it from ticks but I have absolutely no recollection of being bit or having a rash or ANYTHING," the former Playboy model shared. "Most importantly there are SO MANY of you carrying Lyme that don't even know you have it. Probably because the ticks can be the size of specs. I always thought of ticks to be big and noticeable," she added. Noting that, when left untreated, Lyme Disease can lead to MS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other illnesses, Hefner also listed a myriad of the disease's symptoms including fatigue, sore muscles, brain fog and bladder pain. "Having just one of these could mean you have Lyme," she wrote. "Please please get tested. It is a disease so many people are living with and is becoming an epidemic. I always thought I was a hypochondriac. Doctors told me it was just 'stress' or 'all in my head' but I finally figured it out and you can too."
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'YOU CAN ONLY HANDLE SO MUCH BY YOURSELF'
When Jamie-Lynn Siglerawas diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 20, she kept the secret for many years until symptoms started to present themselves. She did, however, confide in those who mattered to her the most, including fellow Sopranos cast member James Gandolfini. "They were very much like a family to me," she told PEOPLE of her costars. "You can only handle so much by yourself. So the people I felt safest with, I confided in."
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GET A SECOND OPINION
Rita Wilson's recent revelation that she'd undergone a double mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis makes her the latest celebrity to come forward with a health scare. "I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health," she told PEOPLE after revealing that an initial biopsy didn't show anything unusual (a second doctor's visit did). "You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed is found, which does happen. Early diagnosis is key."
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DON'T BE ASHAMED
While her husband, Michael Douglas, battled cancer, Catherine Zeta-Jones privately struggled with bipolar II disorder. In an interview with PEOPLE, she focused on the importance of speaking up. "If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it," she said. "There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help."
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LOOK OUT FOR YOUR LOVED ONES
Taylor Swift may not be dealing with a diagnosis personally, but she's coming pretty close: In 2015, she received the news that her mother has cancer. The diagnosis came after Swift asked her mom to get tested (as a Christmas gift), and in a Tumblr post, she told her fans to encourage their parents to do the same. "Your parents may be too busy juggling everything they've got going on to go to the doctor," she wrote. "Maybe you reminding them to go get checked for cancer could possibly lead to an early diagnosis and an easier battle."
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DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE 'LITTLE GUYS'
Michael Douglas thought the people who contracted oral cancers were older and had a history of tobacco use. But after his diagnosis of throat cancer, born of HPV contracted during oral sex, he saw waiting rooms filled with people even younger than he was, he told The Guardian. In a PSA for the Oral Cancer Foundation, Douglas discussed the importance of raising awareness of lesser-known cancers (and their similarly unknown causes).
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PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR FAMILY HISTORY
Christina Applegate had a family history of breast cancer, and she received the news at a young age (36) that she too had the disease. Soon after, she was tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation, and got the news that the results were positive. She made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy, and now dedicates herself to helping women who are at a high risk for the disease through her foundation, Right Action for Women.
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BUT REMEMBER ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
Unlike Applegate, Giuliana Rancic's breast cancer diagnosis and double mastectomy didn't come after women in her family suffered the same. "If my story can inspire them to go get checked and to take breast cancer seriously and to know it can happen to a young girl without a family history, then that's my responsibility, I have to do it," she told Shape magazine of motivating fans. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to you."
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YOU HAVE OPTIONS
Angelina Jolie has been famously candid about her decision to remove her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes after discovering she carries BRCA1, a genetic mutation that greatly increases your risk of certain cancers. However, while surgery was the right choice for her, she stresses in her New York Times op-eds that it may not be the best path for others. "For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options," she wrote in her first op-ed. "I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices."
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NEVER COUNT YOURSELF OUT
Breast cancer threatens different women in different ways. The disease runs in Kathy Bates's family, and even though she didn't have any BRCA mutations, she still developed in a tumor in her left breast. Discovering this tumor led Bates to the decision, like Rancic, Jolie and Applegate, to have a double mastectomy. After having the surgery, she told AARP The Magazine that when it comes to cancer risk, never assume anything. "Breast cancer runs like a river through my family. My mother and niece had it; my aunt died of it. Even if you test negative [for genetic mutations] – like I did – you can't assume you're okay," she said.
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YOU'RE NOT ALONE
Perhaps one of the best-known celebrities to battle a lifelong illness is Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's in his early 30s. Since then, he's become a huge advocate for those who are living with Parkinson's, reiterating to patients and patients' loved ones alike that they aren't alone, and that while the disease may be life-altering, it doesn't have to be life-ending.
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TAKE PROTECTIVE MEASURES
Hugh Jackman thought the mark on his nose was an accidental scratch from a movie set. After his wife told him to get it checked, he found it was much more serious than that – it was basal cell carcinoma, a sign of skin cancer. He had surgery to remove it, and later posted an Instagram in which he told his followers to get checked themselves – and of course, to use sunscreen.
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