In honor of lung cancer awareness month, Marilu Henner and her husband are sharing his inspiring battle.
Henner, former star of the hit sitcom Taxi, and her husband Michael Brown appeared on Megyn Kelly Today on Tuesday, when they discussed his 2003 diagnosis with bladder cancer — followed by a lung cancer diagnosis two months later.
“You know you’re in the cancer swirl when I found out he had a spot on his lung and I’m driving to his house that night going, ‘Just be lung cancer, please just be lung cancer,’ ” recalled Henner, 65, explaining that at first they thought the spot was an indication of metastasized bladder cancer in his lung — which would have been far more serious.
Henner and Brown met the challenge head-on with aggressive treatment and lifestyle changes, and Nov. 24 will mark Brown’s 14th year cancer-free. Now, the two are opening up about their journey, sharing intimate details in the hope of inspiring others.
“It’s staggering, the statistics — 72 percent of people would rather talk about an affair than admit that they have lung cancer,” said Henner. “They’d rather tell their spouse ‘I had an affair, I cheated on you,’ rather than saying ‘lung cancer,’ because they feel like there is so much shame and so much stigma and yet there are are many, many people who get diagnosed with lung cancer who never smoked. … Even if you quit smoking years before, there’s still that, ‘Oh, you were a smoker.’ ”
Brown recalled his lung cancer being “hard to diagnose.”
“This was 14 years ago,” he said. “The techniques weren’t quite the same as they are now. … So I went for months [without knowing], and of course, the bladder cancer was much more advanced so we really had to focus on that.”
For his bladder cancer, Brown underwent immunotherapy, a treatment that stimulates the immune system to fight the cancer.
“In the last five to 10 years, with immunotherapy, the ability to harness the body’s own immune system to tackle the cancer through clinical trials, we now have standard therapies that patients can get instead of chemotherapies in many cases — even in lung cancer,” said Dr. Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at the Yale Cancer Center. He also urged the importance of screening to detect cancer early on.
Of Brown’s double diagnosis, Henner said her first thought was, “Failure is not an option.”
“I was like … ‘I know a lot about health, I’m going to help you get back together,’ ” she said. “I just kind of felt that I had to stay the course [for him].”
Earlier this year, Henner opened up to PEOPLE about the experience, admitting the two were were “afraid a lot of the time” — but it was all worth it in the end.
“The whole time, I just constantly visualized a future between us — I just saw it,” she said, tearing up. “I always knew that the two of us were going to be together and things were going to work out.”