Tony Goldwyn and his mother, actress Jennifer Howard, had been on a hike for several hours when Jennifer became incredibly winded. “A week later,” Tony remembers, “she had a golf ball-sized tumor in her chest.”

Handling the news

The biggest challenge Tony and his mother faced with the diagnosis was simply hearing the news: “It’s the enormity of the emotional impact of being told you have a terminal illness — and the shock of the fact that my mom had all of those symptoms. Things had been going great.”

The next challenge was the decision of what to do in terms of treatment: “She was told there was no chemotherapy for her that was proven to be effective. Anything would be experimental 23 years ago [when she was diagnosed] and would affect her lifestyle in a profoundly negative way. She made the decision to forgo that and just do radiation.”

Daily struggles

“Cancer is this demonic disease,” Tony adds, “that just as you see the upswing, inevitably that was followed by a crash. It was always unexpected and could be depressing. One thing that inspired me about my mother was every time she hit these crossroads where she could’ve gone very dark, I watched her take the high road.

OVER TIME: Reflecting on his mother's struggle with cancer, Goldwyn has come to understand the importance in valuing time, acknowledging that not everything is a death sentence. Photo: Carlo Miari Fulcis

“That made her live a lot longer than she was supposed to,” he says. “They told her she had 3 to 6 months — she lived 18 months. She faced down what was happening to her and did everything she could to make her quality of life the best it could be.”

Advice to others

Today, Tony sees a whole host of options for lung cancer patients that weren’t available when his mom was diagnosed. “[When you’re diagnosed], you feel so helpless and the c-word is so overwhelming. The treatments now are making lung cancer less of a death sentence. People need to take responsibility for their own health and look at their options. Get as much information and opinions as you can.”

“Take a deep breath,” Tony advises when being diagnosed. “Assemble your team — doctors, loved ones, family, friends. Embrace the reality of the situation and talk about it.”

While it’s natural to be intimidated by fear and denial, Tony remembers his mother’s proactive perseverance in pushing through that phase. “Time is of the essence. You can’t waste time living in denial or shame or abdicating responsibility. Nothing is necessarily a death sentence. The world is changing very rapidly.”