Cancer has touched most of our lives, whether we’ve battled it ourselves or have supported loved ones who were fighting it.
It’s no surprise that many celebrities have also grappled with their own cancer diagnoses. In the face of these struggles, however, they’ve often been generous enough to use their fame to help spread awareness about early detection, or simply to provide words of encouragement and inspiration for others.
“Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon — who recently made a run for New York governor, losing in the Democratic primary to Andrew Cuomo — was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram at age 40. She began getting mammograms at age 35 because her mother had battled breast cancer twice. Breast cancer was actually a subject addressed on “Sex and the City” prior to Nixon’s diagnosis. She told ABC that she believes the show handled the story of the Samantha character’s cancer “beautifully.”
While promoting the fourth season of her Netflix series, “Grace and Frankie,” actress Jane Fonda was seen with bandages on her face. The Oscar award-winning actress and activist explained that a doctor had recently removed a cancerous growth from her lip. In a playful Instagram post, Fonda posed with co-star Lily Tomlin, her hand placed over her mouth. The caption read: “With Lily in NY. I’ve found a clever way to disguise my lip bandages from removal of cancer.”
This wasn’t the actress’ first bout with cancer. In 2010, Fonda had a cancerous tumor removed from her breast.
Comedian Ben Stiller was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014 at age 48. Two years later, he discussed his diagnosis during an interview on the “Today” show and advocated for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, saying, “every guy should get tested.”
During the interview, the “Meet the Parents” star said he followed his doctor’s recommendation and had his prostate removed, and that he felt fortunate to be cancer-free. One in nine men will develop prostate cancer at some point in their lives, according to the American Cancer Society.
Recent reports reveal that actress Olivia Newton-John is battling cancer for the third time since she was first diagnosed in 1992. During an interview with Australian show “Sunday Night,” the “Grease” star revealed that doctors removed a tumor from her lower back.
“I’m one of millions in this fight … in this journey,” she said during the September 2018 interview. “A lot of people see it as a fight, and [however] you choose to see it, that’s your prerogative. … I see it as part of my mission.”
She has undergone radiation treatment, cut sugar from her diet and is using cannabis oil for pain management. Newton-John is a two-time survivor of breast cancer and an advocate for breast-cancer screening.
After a breast cancer diagnosis, former “Good Morning America” co-host Joan Lunden says she went into “warrior mode.” The journalist was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram in 2014, and today she is cancer-free.
“I personally think that it’s important to get yourself into a healthy, positive mindset,” she told “Today” during a National Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign. “Before I lost my hair, I decided to take control and shave my head. That was the moment that I went into ‘warrior mode.’ I decided to fight and to believe that I was going to be OK.”
“Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts discovered a lump in her breast during a self-exam and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Five years later, she discovered she also had a rare blood disorder known as myelodysplastic syndrome. Roberts felt it was important to share her message, inspiring more women to perform self-exams, get mammograms and also donate bone marrow for transplants.
“I wanted to educate the public on all fronts, so I did what my mother said. She said make your mess your message,” Roberts told Cure Today.
As for her health, the former collegiate basketball player says she’s “strong like bull.”
A persistent sore throat led actor and producer Michael Douglas to seek medical help and, in 2010, doctors found a tumor on the base of his tongue and determined he had oral cancer. The Academy Award-winner began both radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and is now cancer-free.
In an interview after his diagnosis, Douglas prompted a discussion about the connection between oral sex and throat cancer. While oral cancers have long been linked to tobacco and alcohol use, emerging research is showing that the number of HPV-related oral cancers is on the rise, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.
Christina Applegate’s mother is a breast cancer survivor, so the actress took extra precautions by getting mammograms beginning at age 30. Then, a decade ago, the “Married with Children” and “Bad Moms” star had a double mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis.
“When I first came out about my breast cancer I didn’t want to talk about it, but I had to, because young women were getting it, and people weren’t understanding that,” Applegate told People.
Applegate, in interviews, has also said that she has a BRCA1 gene mutation, which predisposes her to developing cancer. In 2017, she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a preventative measure, she told E News.
Grammy Award-winning singer Sheryl Crow is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2006 and underwent more than 30 rounds of radiation.
“I was perfectly healthy, had no family history and wound up with a breast cancer diagnosis, so some things just happen,” Crow told Country Living in an interview.
The “All I Wanna Do” singer said the biggest takeaway from her cancer diagnosis was to learn to put herself first on her list of those she needs to take care of.
Olympian Shannon Miller — who won seven gold medals, making her the most decorated Olympic gymnast in history — was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010 at age 33. In an interview with Simplemost, she said she had been experiencing bloating, stomach pain and significant weight loss, which she wrote off as “women’s issues at first.” A tumor was removed from her ovary and she went through chemotherapy. She’s now a women’s health advocate.
“You can’t leave your health up to luck,” she told us in the interview.
Surviving breast cancer in 2005 changed the way singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge views fear.
“Once I overcame breast cancer, I wasn’t afraid of anything anymore,” she told Shape in an interview. “I now have a different relationship with fear. There are only two things in our reality, love and fear. I try to make my choices out of love.”
The Grammy Award-winner went through five rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, as well as a lumpectomy, during her cancer battle.
After a diagnosis in 2015, actress Shannen Doherty lived through a three-year battle with breast cancer, undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The “90210” star is now in remission. She recently told fellow cancer survivor Robin Roberts in an interview with “Good Morning America” that she emerged from her cancer battle as a “better human being.”
“It takes down all your walls, all your barriers, everything that life sort of threw at you … you’re guarding yourself so yeah, that all comes tumbling down,” Doherty said in the interview.
Shortly after winning an 11th Emmy Award in 2017, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus posted about her breast cancer diagnosis on social media.
“1 in 8 women get breast cancer,” she wrote. “Today I’m the one.”
The “Veep” actress paused production on the HBO show while she went through chemotherapy. In an interview with InStyle, conducted after she had beat the breast cancer, Louis-Dreyfus said she’s now advocating for other breast care patients and is helping Carolina Herrera designer Wes Gordon design a T-shirt for Saks Fifth Avenue’s program “Key to the Cure.”
After a two-year battle with throat cancer, actor Val Kilmer is now filming a sequel to “Top Gun” alongside Tom Cruise.
Kilmer has said little about his cancer battle, but he did open up a bit during a Dec. 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. A Christian Scientist, Kilmer said his faith helped him get through the health ordeal, and that he’s also undergone chemotherapy.
The two-year cancer battle affected his voice, and he has been going through speech therapy.
Supermodel and former “America’s Next Top Model” judge Janice Dickinson went through rounds of radiation and two lumpectomies after her 2016 breast cancer diagnosis. She originally thought the lump on her breast was due to a botched cosmetic surgery. Now she’s spreading the message of early detection.
“I have a new purpose: to make sure people get tested. If I can reach just one person, I’ve done my job,” Dickinson told People.
Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh has gone through two battles with cancer. In 2006, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had a tumor removed. Then, in 2015, he revealed he was fighting bladder cancer, prompting him to cancel his Phil & Friends concerts.
“I am very fortunate to have the pathology reports show that the tumors are all non-aggressive, and that there is no indication that they have spread,” he told his fans on Facebook.
Former CNN talk show host Larry King credits a chest X-ray during an annual exam with helping him fight lung cancer early on and stopping the cancer’s progression. He underwent a surgery and returned to work within two weeks. A former smoker who quit after a heart attack in 1987, King says he’s urging others to take similar precautions.
“The reason I go public with it is to tell people, ‘Get a chest X-ray.’ I smoked for thirty years,” King told Mario Lopez in an interview with Extra. “The day of the heart attack, I never smoked again, and I smoked three packs a day — I smoked in the shower.”
King was also successfully treated for prostate cancer in 1999.
A sunscreen proponent, Australian actor Hugh Jackman has undergone several treatments for basal cell carcinoma, which is a common form of skin cancer that is rarely fatal. The “Wolverine” star has used his experience to remind his fans to wear sunscreen.
He posted a message on Twitter in Feb. 2017 with a photo of a bandage on his nose, saying: “Another basal cell carcinoma. Thanks to frequent body checks and amazing doctors, all is well. Looks worse with the dressing on than off. I swear! #wearsunscreen”
Tommy Chong — one half of the legendary comedy duo Cheech & Chong — announced in 2012 that he had prostate cancer, and that he used hemp to treat it. Three years later, the legal marijuana advocate was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and again used cannabis during his treatment and recovery. The comedian, in an interview with ABC News, quipped that his diagnosis was “a pain in the butt,” and said he was keeping a positive attitude.
“I know that life doesn’t end just because the body gets put in the ground,” he told the news station. “The soul is forever, is eternal. So, I know that, and that’s the comforting thing.”
Chong recently celebrated his 80th birthday. According to High Times, he has his own brand of weed called “Chong’s Choice.”
Fashion icon and designer Betsey Johnson strategically kept her 1999 breast cancer diagnosis a secret, telling only her daughter.
“My biggest fear was that people were gonna think I was going to die,” Johnson told Bustle years later. “That I wasn’t going to pay my bills. That I’m not going to design. That I’m not going to feel good. That it was over.”
It was only after she was in remission that she announced she had battled breast cancer.
“Nanny” alum Fran Drescher has become a vocal health advocate after the two years and eight doctors it took for her to get a proper uterine cancer diagnosis. She says she was overlooked because most women who have this type of cancer are post-menopausal or obese, and she was neither. She is now the president of an educational nonprofit, Cancer Schmancer.
“Groups like Cancer Schmancer can help transform patients into medical consumers and help them become better partners with their physicians,” she wrote in a column for NBC. “Knowledge is power.”
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 66. The retired four-star general recently told BlackDoctor.org, a black health organization, that he wasn’t terribly surprised with his diagnosis. He had been going for regular check-ups for five years and his prostate-specific antigen (or PSA) levels were elevated, which can be an early sign of prostate cancer.
“I was just at the age where I decided, ‘I don’t want to fool with this, I don’t want to think about it’ and so I decided to go for the radical prostatectomy [removal of the prostate gland], as opposed to the radiation treatment,” he said in the interview with BlackDoctor.org. “As Secretary of State, I didn’t want to face the prospect of regular radiation therapy, as opposed to doing it all at once and taking care of it.”
During a breast-reduction surgery in 2011, comedian Wanda Sykes discovered she had breast cancer. She elected for a double mastectomy to make sure she didn’t have another breast cancer scare, as this cancer runs in her family.
Sykes discussed her cancer treatment on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” saying: “It sounds scary up front, but what do you want? Do you want to wait and not be as fortunate when it comes back and it’s too late?”
Professional cyclist Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 25 in 1996. By the time he was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to his lungs and brain, and he was told that he had less than a 40 percent chance of survival. He said that he was in “complete shock” at the time of his diagnosis.
“I can now say that my life is better because of my cancer experience,” he said in a National Institutes of Health interview. “Though I wouldn’t wish it for anyone, I believe I appreciate my life in a completely new and better way because I faced cancer and was lucky enough to survive. Having said that, I also believe that cancer still affects far too many people, and we must continue to work to change that fact.”
Twice a cancer survivor, actress Kathy Bates has beat both breast and ovarian cancers over the course of 14 years. The “American Horror Story” actress, well known for her roles in “Misery” and “Titanic,” also has lymphedema, which is a blockage in the lymphatic system that often occurs because of lymph node removal during breast cancer surgery. In an interview with Parade, Bates says cancer has changed her outlook on life.
“I’ve become less of a hermit and I travel more,” she said. “I really enjoy every moment of my life now. It’s not that every moment is terrific — we all go through tough times — but I try to be more present and grateful for the good times that I have.”
At age 50, media personality and former reality star Sharon Osbourne discovered she had colon cancer and her journey was documented on the MTV reality show “The Osbournes.” She had a surgery to remove a section of her colon and underwent chemotherapy.
“During my ordeal, I received thousands of letters of support from people all over the world,” the wife of rock star Ozzy Osbourne said in an interview. “Complete strangers reached out to me with their prayers and words of encouragement. It was amazing and it made me realize that people are inherently good.”
While never diagnosed with breast cancer, she also had a double mastectomy in 2012 when she learned she had the gene that would put her at risk for it.
Radio personality Robin Quivers, who is Howard Stern’s sidekick, went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation after her 2012 endometrial cancer diagnosis. Now in remission, she told People that her best advice to those with a new cancer diagnosis is to surround yourself with your friends and keep them close.
“And get the best medical care you can possibly get,” she says.
In March 2015, at the age of 49, Food Network chef Sandra Lee was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The early-stage breast cancer was discovered during a routine, annual mammogram. Lee has been open about her cancer journey, discussing her lumpectomy and then mastectomy, as well as the complications with her surgeries.
“For me to withhold my breast cancer diagnosis would have been disingenuous,” she said in an interview. “My fan base and I have had a strong connected relationship. I take the responsibility of being their friend, advocate and activist to heart.”
Dr. Drew Pinksy
Dr. Drew Pinsky, a celebrity doctor and a board-certified internist, was diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer in 2013 and went through surgery to remove his prostate. He thanks his wife Susan for urging him to get a check-up as, prior to his diagnosis he had been sick a lot.
“Doctors are the worst patients,” Pinsky joked in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “Men are terrible patients too. It’s like asking for directions. I won’t do that either.”