'Love It or List It' 's Hilary Farr Reveals Breast Cancer for the First Time: 'I Could Have Died'

Farr underwent three lumpectomies and radiation during her breast cancer battle — she is now in remission

Tough Love with Hilary Farr New Show
Photo: HGTV

HGTV's Hilary Farr is opening up for the first time about the frightening health crisis she kept a secret while filming her HGTV home-renovation show Love It or List It.

In 2012, after Farr went in for a routine mammogram, doctors found a suspicious lump. She immediately underwent surgery, and lab results confirmed that the tumor was precancerous, not malignant. "I felt so much relief," she says in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "I moved on."

But it was only the beginning of her ordeal.

In late 2014, while Farr, 70, was filming the show in Raleigh, North Carolina, a mammogram revealed a more serious diagnosis: She had invasive breast cancer, a tumor that had spread into surrounding breast tissue. Farr underwent a second lumpectomy and after the procedure, "I was signed off by the medical oncologist saying, 'You're done. You're fine. Off you go,' " says Farr.

Nearly two months later, a shocked Farr says she learned she was supposed to get radiation as a part of her course of treatment but was incorrectly told by the medical oncologist it was not necessary. "I was terrified, because I knew I had a very small window," she says. (Radiation therapy is often given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.)

Her fear quickly turned to anger. "I felt absolute fury that someone could be so flippantly wrong," she says. "I could have been dead." Farr, who declines to name the facility and doctor involved, says she filed a complaint and that the oncologist retired the next year.

In March 2015 she then began a 28-day course of radiation, but 7 months later, doctors found another suspicious breast growth. She underwent a third lumpectomy, and the tumor was considered precancerous. Farr is now in remission.

RELATED VIDEO: Marathoner Learns She Has Breast Cancer After Delaying Mammogram Due to COVID: 'I Didn't Feel Sick'

Now, Farr, who has a new home renovation series, Tough Love With Hilary Farr premiering Dec. 20 on HGTV, is sharing her story with the hopes of helping others.

"Fear of breast cancer stops a lot of women from getting checked. But as terrifying as it is, you face it," she says, adding that coping with an illness alone is a mistake she doesn't want others to make.

"Thinking that you should keep it a secret or just power through doesn't help and it doesn't heal," she says. "If I can change that for one person, then that's enough."

Tough Love with Hilary Farr premieres Monday, Dec. 20, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV.

For more from Hilary Farr's cancer journey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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