“She’s my best friend, and I really don’t know what I would do without her,” the actor, multiplatinum recording artist and host of the daytime talk show, Harry, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue as he and his wife reveal her five-year battle with breast cancer.
“I was scared I was going to lose her, absolutely,” says Connick Jr., 50, whose mother died of ovarian cancer when he was 13. “I wasn’t going to let her see that, but I was. I know from losing my mom that the worst can happen.”
In October 2012 — breast cancer awareness month — Goodacre was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma and immediately underwent a lumpectomy, which didn’t come back with clean margins.
- For more from Harry Connick Jr. and Jill Goodacre, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Pathology tests showed she also had extensive ductal carcinoma in situ, a less invasive form of the disease. She went in for a second surgery the next day and has been taking Tamoxifen, an estrogen modulator taken in pill form that helps prevent the development of hormone receptor-positive breast cancers, for the last five years.
“It threw me right into menopause,” Goodacre, 53, says of the medication, which can have difficult side effects. “And then there was the weight gain.”
As someone who once had a career built on posing in lingerie and swimsuits, former Victoria’s Secret model Goodacre has found herself in a size and shape she had never before experienced. (The drug can lead to weight gain, particularly in the midsection, a side effect with the dreaded nickname Tamoxifen Tummy.)
“I’ve always been a pretty fit person, and so to be just rounder and heavier and not to really be able to do much about it — that’s been hard,” she admits. “It’s taken a lot out of my self-confidence.”
Connick Jr. understands her struggles.
“It’s not silly and it’s not vain,” he explains. “It’s a part of how the cancer and the treatment impacted her, and it was a real issue, even though she will always be the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Connick Jr. met Goodacre at a party in 1990, at the height of her modeling career, when he was best known as New Orleans-bred big band crooner who repopularized Gershwin on the soundtrack of When Harry Met Sally.
They wed four years later, and today share a cozy, converted barn in a quiet Connecticut town with their daughters Georgia, 21, Sara Kate, 20 (who goes by Kate), and Charlotte, 15.
“I think one of the reasons we’ve lasted this long is that we’re so aligned in every way,” he says. “We have the same morals, the same goals.”
“Everything that he values, I value so much too,” she adds. “And our family has always been the most important.”
Now, as she approaches the five-year mark of remission, Goodacre is looking forward to stopping Tamoxifen soon and preparing to tell the world what few outside her family knew.
On Thursday’s episode of Harry, the couple will candidly discuss her cancer journey and the moment she was diagnosed — “It’s one of the hardest days of my life,” she recalls — in a heart-to-heart discussion.
As for her husband? He still has the same hope he did after their very first encounter.
“I knew as soon as I met her that I wanted to grow old with her,” he says. “I’m so grateful that I still can.”
Harry airs weekdays (check local listings or visit HarryTV.com).