These Stars Faced Breast Cancer and Shared Their Inspiring Stories to Help Others
Their journeys, from diagnosis to recovery, are all very different, but these stars have something in common: They've spoken out about their experiences in hopes of educating, inspiring and helping others
Ages at diagnosis: 44 and 48
The actress revealed to PEOPLE in August 2015 that she was battling breast cancer; it went into remission, but in February 2020 she revealed that it had returned as a Stage 4 metastatic cancer that had spread to her spine.
Despite the news of her terminal illness, Doherty said in September that she was feeling strong and healthy. "It’s like anybody with Stage 4 faces this sort of thing, where others want to put you out to pasture,” the Beverly Hills, 90210 star tells ELLE magazine. “I’m not ready for pasture. I’ve got a lot of life in me.”
Ages at diagnosis: 44, 64 and 68
Following a 1992 cancer diagnosis in her right breast, the Grease star underwent a modified radical mastectomy and a year of chemotherapy, herbs, acupuncture and mental imaging to cope with the nausea. "I visualized [the chemicals] as gold liquid going into my body, healing me, rather than what it really is, which is poison," she told PEOPLE in 2000. "So, okay, I didn't die. I was stronger than I thought." Afterward, the breast cancer advocate released a 2005 album, Stronger than Before, dedicated to "going through difficulty and getting through it," she revealed on Good Morning America at the time.
In May 2017, she announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time, and that the cancer had metastasized and spread to her bones. She later revealed that she had secretly faced the disease for a second time in private back in 2013.
But Newton-John is staying positive. “I’m happy. I’m lucky. I’m grateful. I have much to live for. And I intend to keep on livin’ it,” the actress told CBS Sunday Morning.
Age at diagnosis: 56
One day after the 2017 Emmy Awards, the Veep star was diagnosed with breast cancer. “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” the actress wrote on a photo posted to Twitter about 10 days later.
She completed her cancer treatment in early 2018, and returned to work filming Veep. Speaking to PEOPLE in September 2018, the actress said, "I’m feeling good and feeling quite ready and delighted to focus on funny things as opposed to things that aren’t quite so funny.”
She also told PEOPLE she plans to be an advocate for women's health going forward, starting with modeling the 20th anniversary edition of the Key to the Cure shirt (pictured), from which 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit AiRS Foundation.
Age at high-risk diagnosis: 37
After tests revealed she had a high risk of developing breast cancer, Jolie quietly underwent a double mastectomy, she told the New York Times in a May 2013 op-ed article. "I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made," wrote the mother of six. "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer." In 2015, she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a further preventive measure.
Age at diagnosis: 42
After discovering a lump in her breast, the Today anchor underwent a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in March 2007, which she now credits with helping her better her life. "Staring down the scariest thing that could have happened to me gave me the strength to take on new challenges," she said in 2008 on Today, which provided a platform to document her cancer journey. "When I got back to work, one of the first things I did was walk into my bosses' offices ... to tell them I wanted to be Today's fourth-hour co-host. Before cancer, I don't think I had the confidence to fight for the position, but now here I am, living my dream job."
Age at Diagnosis: 47
In 2016, NBC News correspondent reported a story on lesser-known signs of breast cancer (including dimpling, "dents" or redness) - then three years later, spotted one in herself. It turned out to be Stage 2 breast cancer.
“I remember thinking at the time, this story is going to save lives. And I just had no idea that the life it would save would be mine,” she said. “My thinking is, if that story saved my life, then maybe it can save someone else’s. And if someone sees this and notices a change in their breast and goes and gets it checked out, if one person is saved by that, then that makes it worth it to share my struggle.”
She's currently in remission and still sharing her journey. On Oct. 1, she spoke about the next step, reconstruction, on the Today Show.
Age at Diagnosis: 67
The music producer and father to Beyoncé and Solange Knowles decided to see a doctor after noticing tiny spots of blood on his shirt and bedsheets. He discovered that he was one of the few men to be diagnosed with breast cancer (about 1 percent of the 270,000 annual diagnoses in America).
After successful treatment, he discovered that he has the BRCA gene, which can mutate and lead to cancer. He now encourages people (including his daughters) to learn more about their risk factors and whether genetic testing is right for them. And he's focused on educating people about men's risk of the cancer, which is often detected later (and thus can be more fatal) due to lack of awareness.
"A whole lot has to change in the education of men about breast cancer,” he says, adding that Black men are diagnosed with breast cancer at a 52 percent higher rate than white men. “I want to save lives, especially in the Black community,”
Age at Diagnosis: 40
When offered the option to get a mammogram during her regular check-up, the Hamilton star said yes ("because breast cancer tends to impact Latina women at a younger age than the general population") - and after a second scan, she was officially diagnosed.
“Everything happened very fast, I was very fortunate that they were able to catch it early,” Gonzalez told PEOPLE in January 2020. “It’s important for women to know that early detection is key. As a community, as a society, we need to figure out a way so that everyone has access to a mammogram.”
She continued to perform as Angelica Schuyler in the hit Broadway musical while undergoing treatment, saying that singing was a source of strength for her. And in July, she got to ring the bell indicating her cancer-free status.
Now she raises awareness about early detection, and sees the positive in her journey. "I’ve come to see that sharing and exposing vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness," she told PEOPLE. “Yes, I have breast cancer. But it does not define me. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an actress, a squad leader. None of that changes.”
Age at diagnosis: 36
After watching her mother have cancer twice, Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2008 and underwent a double mastectomy, even though cancer was detected in only one of her breasts. "Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I scream, and I get really angry," the actress, now in remission, said on Good Morning America, "I think it's all part of healing."
Age at diagnosis: 40
Diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2014 – and declared cancer-free that October – the TV host was able to see the silver lining in her situation. "While I lay in bed recovering from my mastectomy, my husband said to me, 'Babe, when life gives you lemons, you gotta make lemonade'," she recalled to PEOPLE. And the couple's website, Gotta Make Lemonade, which "inspires positivity in the face of adversity," per Harris, was born. "It's a destination for visitors to submit their stories of overcoming a challenge – there are stories about battling through illness, infertility, injuries, depression," she explained. "I didn't realize just how much positivity could help you heal."
Age at diagnosis: 39
The ultra-private star only informed family, a few close friends and her bosses at HBO when she was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of breast cancer in 2003. "I don't respond well to the sympathy thing," she told PEOPLE in 2009, explaining that she filmed The Sopranos around her chemo appointments and donned an identical wig on the show. "We were shooting crazy hours, so I still looked better than everybody else," she joked.
Age at high-risk diagnosis: 29
Like Angelina Jolie before her, Bachelor and Bachelor Winter Games alum Murphy found out she tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene mutation, which greatly increases her chance of developing breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, so Murphy — who placed fifth on Sean Lowe's season of The Bachelor — chose to get ahead of her diagnosis and have a preventative double mastectomy in April 2017. "I was just kind of like, You know, I don’t really want to be sitting on these potentially cancerous cells. Like, why hang on to something that is a ticking time bomb?" Murphy told PEOPLE of the initial conversation with her doctor. Of fans' support, she said, "It’s nice to share in commiserating or laughing with all these people who have come out to support me: complete strangers. I’m just scrolling through comments the other day and broke down crying because I just was overwhelmed with emotion and the goodness in humanity."
Age at diagnosis: 44
"I remember thinking, 'I'm so young. This can't be happening,'" Tierney told PEOPLE in July 2012, about three years after finding out she had breast cancer in 2009. The diagnosis meant she had to drop out of the NBC show Parenthood, but ultimately, it allowed her to focus on what's important. "I think I always kind of lived in the moment," she said. "But I spend a lot more time with my family now – that's one solid difference."
Jessica St. Clair
Age at diagnosis: 38
The Playing House star was serving her then-2-year-old daughter breakfast in 2015 when she realized something wasn't right. Days later, she was diagnosed with stage 2B estrogen positive cancer. "I remember thinking, 'I will do anything and everything I need to do to stay alive for my daughter and make sure this has the least amount of impact on her life'," she recalled to PEOPLE.
After intense chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, she's cancer-free, and en used her journey as inspiration for the new season of Playing House. "I knew we were going to have to tell the story, because [costar Lennon Parham] and I always write about what we're going through in real life," she said. "There are a lot of young moms going through this and I want them to know, 'Hey, I can do this too!' "
Age at diagnosis: 58
The actress (and wife of Tom Hanks) has an underlying condition she monitors regularly. An abnormality raised some red flags with her doctor, though cancer wasn't detected. However, a friend urged Wilson to get a second opinion – at which time she found out she did in fact have breast cancer, and in April 2015, she told PEOPLE she'd had a bilateral mastectomy. "I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health," she said. "You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed was found. I hope this will encourage others to get a second opinion and trust their instincts if something doesn't 'feel' right."
In 2017, Wilson penned an article in Harper's BAZAAR that talked about the aftermath of having breast cancer. "We often assume that once you have had the surgery and treatment, you are fine," Wilson writes. "And hopefully you are. But I found that there were unexpected things that came along with having gone through something as frightening as having had cancer that I only heard about from my friends who’d had cancer too."
Age at diagnosis: 37
"The second I heard 'cancer,' I just remember my head went down, the ground went away, and I just dropped through the earth, and I was just dropping, falling," the E! host recalled on her reality show after learning she had breast cancer during a 2011 mammogram while undergoing a round of in vitro fertilization. But Rancic, who underwent a double lumpectomy and a double mastectomy to treat the cancer, marked a very special milestone just months later: her first Mother's Day with son Edward Duke.
“The key for me is getting out there and encouraging women to find it early,” she told PEOPLE. “More women find their breast cancer themselves than at the doctor or mammogram. I have women all the time who say, ‘I found my breast cancer early because of you and I’m going to be okay.’"
Age at diagnosis: 44
Just weeks after calling off her engagement to Lance Armstrong, the singer was diagnosed with an early stage of breast cancer in February 2006, later undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. Rather than feel bad on her difficult year, Crow said it was a positive for her: "It brought me to this point where I am now, and I really feel like I have a lot of clarity."
These days she is a huge advocate for early screening, recently speaking out to encourage women to get mammograms rather than put them off in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I'm encouraging women to not let that yearly appointment go by because it can mean a huge difference in the kind of diagnosis you receive, if you are diagnosed with breast cancer," she told PEOPLE in September. "We have a cure — early detection — and it's our greatest weapon."
Age at diagnosis: Unknown
On a November 2016 episode of The Real, the Being Mary Jane actress talked about her diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, found not by a mammogram, but an ultrasound. "A mammogram is like a snow storm and you're trying to find a snowflake," she said. "You don't see it until it's much worse and so that's why I really, kind of, want to advocate for women to get ultrasounds and early detection. The good thing was that it was treatable."
Age at diagnosis: 43
When the singer took the stage at the 2005 Grammy Awards with a show-stopping rendition of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," she famously performed bald – a reminder of her October 2004 breast cancer diagnosis. "I'm feeling great," she proclaimed to PEOPLE. Years later, performing 10,000 feet up in the air for a 2009 Breast Cancer Research Foundation benefit, Etheridge said, "My health is better now than it's ever been. Cancer woke me up."
Age at diagnosis: 46
Now healthy, the Facts of Life star was diagnosed in 2012, and went through her battle largely alone, telling very few friends as she faded from the spotlight during treatment. But once she opened up a bit, "so many people began reaching out, wanting to help," she told PEOPLE. For Cohn it was a lesson in humility. “I needed to be vulnerable,” she said. “I had to learn that asking for help is not me being weak—it’s actually beautiful."
Age at diagnosis: 36
After an initial misdiagnosis, the Australian pop star postponed her Showgirl tour to undergo treatment for breast cancer in 2005. "When you are stripped of everything and you have to grow your eyelashes back, grow your hair back, it's just astonishing," Minogue later opened up in the November 2007 issue of British Glamour. "It's hard to express what I've learned from that, but a deep psychological and emotional shift has obviously taken place."
Age at diagnosis: 40
Six years before the Sex and the City alum and former New York gubernatorial candidate shaved her head to portray a cancer patient in Broadway's 2012 production of Wit, Nixon was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram, which she revealed 18 months later when she became an official ambassador for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. "I felt scared," the mother of three told ABC at the time. "And 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."
Age at diagnosis: 54
After revealing on Larry King Live in 2001 that she was battling breast cancer (without chemotherapy), Somers was inspired to put pen to paper in her 2010 book Knockout, in which she explored alternative treatment methods. "Saying the words publicly out loud – 'I have cancer' – rocked my soul," she recalled to PEOPLE of her public announcement.
Age at diagnosis: 55
Bates was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003, and then breast cancer in 2012. She decided to have a double mastectomy because of her family history with cancer. “My aunt had died from it, my mother had it, my niece had it,” she told PEOPLE. She tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation that increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. A negative BRCA result is “not a get out of jail free card,” she said.
Age at Diagnosis: 45
In addition to the picture, Foster further destigmatized the treatment by saying, "if you are a lady out there and you feel something in your boob — go get a mammogram. KNOWING IS BETTER…even if it’s the worst news you can hear." She wrote that in her case, early detection meant she would need a mastectomy but not chemotherapy.