Hearing the words “you have breast cancer” can be scary and overwhelming. One in 8 women will get that diagnosis in her lifetime.
Now, breast cancer survivors and celebrities — Samantha Harris and Jaclyn Smith — share their emotions and advice following their respective diagnoses.
Actress Jaclyn Smith was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer 18 years ago. She’d gone in for her annual mammogram and her doctor noticed something suspicious. A core biopsy and an ultrasound confirmed the diagnosis.
Her tumor was small and caught early. She had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation. The experience changed her.
“When you get breast cancer, it opens your eyes up to a lot, because you never think you’re going to hear those words, ‘cancer,’” said the “Charlie’s Angels” star.
At the time, her children were young and she was focused on staying healthy for them. She wanted to keep her diagnosis and treatment a secret. Then a close friend who’d had breast cancer educated her about the condition.
“The more I knew, the more I wanted to help other women,” said Smith, who traveled the country for two years doing breast cancer advocacy.
Make health a priority
The entrepreneur encourages women to make their health a priority, including regular screenings — even during the pandemic. Smith gets mammograms yearly.
“I’m for early detection, and for being proactive in mammograms and whatever thing you can do to keep yourself healthy,” she said.
And if your doctor calls you back for more tests, have a family member or friend go with you on the follow-up appointment. Smith had gone alone because she thought she was healthy.
“You’re not thinking clearly, so don’t go alone,” said Smith, who admits feeling dread and going to a “dark place.”
She says the whole family feels the diagnosis and learns how to cope. She relied on her husband, a pediatric heart surgeon, for both medical advice and support. Her friends were also supportive.
Throughout her diagnosis and treatment, she continued to work on projects, including a cameo in the movie “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and a role on the TV show “The District.”
Smith is happy to be in remission. She exercises three times a week, eats healthy, and doesn’t drink alcohol or do drugs. She’s still working, too, including having a skincare line, and a wig line designed by celebrity stylist José Eber. She loves playing with her two granddaughters, ages 2 and 4.
Samantha Harris thought she was healthy — she exercised and tried to eat right — but then she got a breast cancer diagnosis in 2014.
“The word cancer was very circulated in my family,” said Harris, whose father died of colon cancer at age 50 and paternal grandmother was a breast cancer survivor, who lived to 95.
The TV host got a baseline mammogram right before she turned 40. The result was clear, but 11 days later, she felt a lump. She followed up with her gynecologist and then her internist. Both examined her and told her not to worry.
Four months later, Harris’ inner voice compelled her to look into it further. Even though all of her screenings didn’t detect breast cancer, she had a lumpectomy. A week later, she went alone to her doctor to check to make sure she was healing properly. That’s when she got the news: She had invasive breast cancer.
“Being alone was definitely a devastating moment,” said Harris, who took deep breaths and tried to focus on what the doctor was saying. “In that moment, you’re flooded with so many emotions and thoughts.”
Harris, whose daughters were ages 6 and 3 at the time of her diagnosis, was committed to beating her cancer. She had a double mastectomy, followed by breast reconstruction surgery.
It wasn’t until three weeks after that reconstruction surgery that she was able to get out of bed for more than 20 minutes at a time. She says asking for help can be challenging, but it’s important to lean on loved ones for emotional and physical support.
Harris is glad she listened to her inner voice. “Listening to your inner voice and your gut is such an important factor,” she said. “And being your own best healthcare advocate, because we know our bodies better than anyone else. We’re in them every day.”
Over time, she made “very significant” health and lifestyle changes. She did her own research, and ultimately turned it into a book, “Your Healthiest Healthy.”
Helping the community
Harris, a certified health coach and trainer, made changes, including how she was eating, the reasons she works out, cutting out toxic people, and using non-toxic health, beauty, and household products.
Now she’s sharing her tips via Your Healthiest Healthy, her subscription-based membership wellness community. Members receive weekly coaching from Harris on topics like nutrition, sleeping better, de-stressing, and building resiliency, as well as weekly live workouts, surprise monthly celebrity guests, monthly challenges, and more.
Harris, a national ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, uses lemons in her logo and says the sour fruit is a symbol for her and her personal journey.
“We all get knocked down in many ways over a lifetime,” she said. “And it’s not about getting knocked down, it’s about how we get back up and what we do with it to make it into something better.”