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How TV's Beekman Boys Helped Mindy Cohn Recover from Breast Cancer

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When The Facts of Life star Mindy Cohn decided to go public with her five-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, she knew exactly where she wanted to do it.

She met PEOPLE at Beekman 1802, a mercantile of natural products that have been developed by her close friends, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge — best known from their reality series, The Fabulous Beekman Boys. There in Sharon Springs, New York, Cohn was relaxed and upbeat as she talked about her journey.

After a tour of the store, PEOPLE accompanied Cohn to a serene farmhouse owned by Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge. The 60-acre property has 113 goats, a chicken coop, vegetable garden and a pond.

Why would Cohn, who grew up in California, do an interview on the other side of the country? “I knew it was important to come here,” she says. “I could get away from everything going on in L.A., and just focus on getting better. This was my spot. And I think I was able to heal here, because it was away from everything.”

Ty R. Ashford

There’s plenty to do at the farmhouse and mercantile, and Cohn was happy to pitch in — including caring for the farm’s 113 goats. (She can point out her favorite ones and remember their names. Really, she can. It’s sort of incredible.)

“She’d put on an apron and pick up a broom,” says Kilmer-Purcell. “She’d stock shelves. She’d go out and feed the chickens on the farm. She liked to keep busy.”

Adds Ridge: “I’d be like, ‘Where’s Mindy?’ Then I’d look out the window and see her working in the garden. She became part of the family.”

Cohn was so much a “part of the family” that she now refers to Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge as her “family by choice” — and insists that they’re always going to be in each others’ lives. “We will family forever,” she says. “We have a bond.”

Sitting around the kitchen table of the farmhouse, the three of them do act like they grew up together — there is banter and laughter and bathroom humor. “We knew that she was family the first time she came down to the kitchen in her bra,” says Kilmer-Purcell, laughing. “We’ve had a lot of celebrities come to the farmhouse before, but Mindy just felt like she belonged.”

Cohn says that the Beekman work ethic helped her take her mind off her diagnosis. “They’ll never say it, but I will,” Cohn says. “They have worked really hard to make their brand what it is. There is always something to do. It didn’t just happen; their success is a result of hard work. And being able to help them do the work was a gift, and one I appreciated so much.”

Ty R. Ashford

“It was an honor to be there for her,” Ridge says. “I think our friendship grew deeper as she was fighting cancer, because she was able to allow herself to lean on us sometimes. Relationships grow deeper when you can depend on each other.”

Even though her cancer is in remission, the newly healthy Cohn has no plans to back away from her friends. They’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu next year, to be planned around their busy schedules. (Cohn has never lacked work in Hollywood, including multiple voiceover jobs. Now that she’s back, she’s enlisted her agent to help her land more meaty roles.)

And the Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge acknowledge that they can always use Cohn’s help. They’re constantly releasing new products, including cheeses, soaps and furniture. Last month, they released a new cookbook, Beekman 1802: a Seat at the Table.

“Mindy is such a part of our family,” says Ridge. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

For more about Cohn’s battle, pick up the latest copy of PEOPLE, on stands Friday