20 Stories of Famous Cancer Survivors

<img src="image.gif" alt="A pink ribbon" />You’ve read the stories of cancer survivors and marveled at their strength, resilience, and confidence. We’ve collected 20 of their stories here, and we hope you enjoy them.

Actress Christina Applegate had a double mastectomy after a cancer diagnosis in 2008. She has started her own cancer foundation.

Bicyclist Lance Armstrong’s testicular cancer spread to his lungs and brain. He was given only a short time to live, but he went on to live and win the Tour de France seven times.

Actress and director Kathy Bates privately fought ovarian cancer 10 years ago and won.

Just two months ago, newsman Tom Brokaw found he had multiple myeloma. He is currently being treated at the Mayo Clinic.

Actor and director Robert DeNiro successfully fought prostate cancer with surgery 11 years ago.

TV doc Drew Pinsky was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011 and underwent a robotic prostatectomy last summer.
After two years of misdiagnoses, actress Fran Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2000. In typical Fran fashion, she founded Fran Drescher’s Cancer Shmancer Foundation.

Late last year, actor Hugh Jackman had a basal cell carcinoma removed from his nose.

Actor Michael C. Hall was told he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma four years ago and is now in remission.

Actress Valerie Harper has beaten the odds. She was told in March 2013 that she had a rare form of brain cancer and was given three months to live.

News anchor and “Today Show” cohost Hoda Kotb has been breast-cancer free since 2009.

In 1995, actor Mr. T was found to have a rare type of T-cell lymphoma. He is in remission.

Diagnosed with breast cancer 8 years ago, actress Cynthia Nixon quietly fought it and is now an ambassador for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Singer Ozzy Osbourne’s wife Sharon was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002. After chemo and surgery, she is now cancer free and has started the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program.

Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell was found to have prostate cancer last year and underwent surgery last December.

News anchor Robin Roberts has been free of breast cancer for over five years.

Actor Richard Roundtree was diagnosed with breast cancer, a rarity among men. He has been cancer free since 1993 after undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Actress Cybill Shepherd’s doctor found a melanoma on her back 12 years ago, and she was successfully treated.

Actress Suzanne Somers beat breast cancer with a lumpectomy and radiation.

Broadway actress Marissa Janet Winokur found she had cervical cancer while she was starring in the Broadway musical “Hairspray.” She beat it and went on to have a baby via surrogate.

Who have we missed? Let us know below!

In Her Words: Deidre Dixon

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction is so proud to publish this moving essay from Deidre Dixon, survivor and a source of inspiration. Thank you Deidre for sharing your story with the world.

Today is the 1-year anniversary of the first in a series of 4 surgeries I underwent last year to reduce my risk of breast cancer and to be reconstructed using my own tissue. The (most likely) final surgery was December 6, although nothing compared to the initial one, which involved arterial grafting, lasted 12 1/2 hours and included a visit to ICU.

Now, one year out, with a risk level at 3% rather than 62, I can’t help but reflect on the incredible year that has just ended. When people spoke at Thanksgiving of the many things for which they were thankful, I realized there were many little things I previously took for granted which I had never considered as being worth the slightest attention. That has all changed.

I will never think of those think of these most basic things as being less than a blessing. And I feel that I should, in celebration of having reached this point, mention a few.
I am thankful for being able to:

1. Pull open a door on my own
2. Take a bath
3. Take a walk
4. Raise my arms above 45 degrees
5. Reach up or bend down to get something off the floor
6. Drive a car
7. Use my hands to support my weight
8. Do anything without being absolutely exhausted
9. Zip my own zipper when it is in the back, or
10. Pull anything over my head or spend an inordinate amount of time selecting my clothes based on whether I can actually put them on by myself

I hope I never forget what a gift that even the most basic things can be, when you suddenly are without them. And I hope I never forget what a blessing my friends are and have been throughout this experience.

Happy Holidays From All of Us!

Our doctors and staff at the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction wish you a merry Christmas and holiday season!

It is such a joy to have friends, former patients, and current clients reaching out to us during this time. We hope your week is filled with warmth and cheer for a healthy new year!


In Her Words: Shirley Nilsen

This week we’re happy to highlight Shirley Nilsen’s story for In Her Words. Shirley, a breast cancer survivor, spearheads an initiative for East Cooper Medical Center, where volunteers  provide plush essential care bags to post-surgery breast reconstruction patients. She reminds us that even the smallest gestures of kindest go a long way.

East Cooper Medical Center Care Bags

This is an incredible initiative and it’s managed by all volunteers! Tell me a little more about the initiative, why it was created and what it means to you.

We were approached last year by the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction to see if our Volunteer Services Organization, a non-profit entity that provides scholarships for students going into the medical field, medications for patients who need financial assistance, and donations to charities in the East Cooper area, would be interested in providing basic essentials to breast reconstruction patients upon discharge. 

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction held a fund-raiser and $2167 was raised, with 20% of the money going to The Plastic Surgery Foundation Breast Reconstruction Awareness Fund.  The remainder was donated to the VSO, who put together bags to give to any patient of any physician who had breast reconstruction at East Cooper Medical Center.   

What items are included in post-op care bags for reconstruction patients? 

4” x 4” Gauze Sponges, 2 packs of warm, fuzzy non-skid socks; pink-ribbon pin; pink-ribbon manicure set; pink-ribbon pen and pad set; pill box; travel mirror. 

Do you have any stories from you or a loved one about breast cancer survival or wellness? 

I am a breast cancer survivor and have had reconstruction.  Although my surgery was over 10 years ago, I still remember the feeling of thinking “will I still feel like a woman, will I be perceived any differently because I have had my breast removed and how will my reconstruction look.  I was very lucky that I had the support of my husband, family and friends.  Unfortunately, all women do not have that support and my heart truly hurts for those women.  The volunteers want women to know that they care.  There is a note in the bag from the volunteers which says:

The Volunteers at East Cooper Medical Center would like to present this lovely tote bag and the little gifts inside to show their support for you as you recover from your surgery.  The funds to purchase these items came from a fundraiser in October, 2012 whose purpose was to show support for women undergoing breast reconstruction surgery.  We hope you find these items useful and we wish you a speedy recovery.

 How can people support this ongoing project?

People can make a donation to the Volunteer Service Organization at East Cooper Medical Center, 2000 Hospital Drive, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464, designating that their donation go to the “Breast Reconstruction Fund”.  

You’re Not Alone: The Best of “In Her Words”

As we enter October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s more important than ever to make sure the message is clear: You are not alone.

Every day, walking among us, are women who just received their diagnosis, who just underwent their first biopsy or their first radiation treatment, who just met with a doctor they will see for many years as they fight for their lives, who just scheduled their first surgery or their reconstruction.

There is a saying, “A woman is like a tea bag…you never know how strong she is until she’s in hot water.”

That’s why we are so proud to present this archive of In Her Words guest blogs.

These women have gone through tremendous challenges to overcome cancer or stand up for those who are breast cancer survivors or current patients. We hope these stories give you comfort, inspire you, and show you that you are not alone. Feel free to share these with the loved ones in your life, too, and don’t hesitate to contact our Center if you are seeking breast reconstruction information or options.

From Our “In Her Words” Archive:

With love and support,

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction


Celebrate BRA Day October 16!

 National Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, or BRA Day, is October 16, 2013 during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

BRA Day promotes awareness and education about post-mastectomy breast reconstruction. Jewel, the singer and songwriter, is the national spokesperson for BRA Day and has written a song to benefit patients, “Flower.”

Many women do not know of the various options regarding breast reconstruction, which is a topic that isn’t discussed as much as breast cancer is. Studies have shown that less than a quarter of women know the options they have in breast reconstruction, and even fewer know about the proper timing of cancer treatment and reconstruction surgery and the variability in outcomes.

BRA Day USA supporters help spread awareness of breast cancer treatment and the plastic surgeon’s role in breast reconstruction. Supporters help educate about surgery and financing options. The goal is a broader understanding of the options available to women after mastectomy.

If you would like to start BRA Day event in your area, there is no fee, and you will have a free BRA Day Starter Guide and Marketing/PR Toolkit to help you plan your BRA Day activities. The only limit is your imagination.

Examples of past BRA Day events include:

  • Art contests
  • Seminars or panels by plastic surgeons and insurance agents
  • Flash mob
  • Fundraising events and raffles to support the BRA Fund
  • A “Show and Tell” event in which women can see what live breast reconstruction looks like

To learn more about BRA Day, visit http://www.bradayusa.org/, and watch our website (or sign up for our newsletter) for more information about how we plan to commemorate the day here in Charleston!

Join Us at the SHE Event on September 27-29th

A celebration of everything woman, SHE is three days of events just for her!

Plenty of style, food, entertainment, arts and crafts, shopping, and healthy living.

The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction will attend, and we’ll be at booth #858. Stop by and say hi!

Located at the Charleston Area Convention Center at 5001 Coliseum Drive in North Charleston, SHE opens at 10 a.m. each day and runs through 8 p.m. Friday, with an opening night party beginning at 5:30. Saturday’s hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday’s hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for children, and $5 for military and college students with ID. A two-day pass is $12, and the group discounted rate for 10 or more is $5. Parking is free.

Events include:

  • A fashion show for mothers and daughters on Sunday at 2 p.m.
  • Wine and cocktail tastings Friday and Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • A workshop on how to use color effectively in your home on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
  • Various hands-on workshops with local artisans all three days
  • A heart health survey from Trident Health, available throughout the event
  • And much more.

Sponsors for the event include Girl Go Lightly, Center for Women, Style for Hire, and Charleston Magazine. Close to 100 vendors will be at the event and include Aloette Cosmetics, Bits of Lace, Christian Royal Pottery, Healthy Home Foods, Vintage Affair Studio, and Kangen Water.

What are you most looking forward to?

Gift of the Present: An Interview with Heidi Sermersheim

Heidi Sermersheim

Heidi Sermersheim is an absolute inspiration to our team at the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction. Dr. James Craigie wrote a recommendation letter on behalf of Heidi for her Cancer for College scholarship application, and Heidi was selected as the recipient! She received funds to continue her education, and we are so proud of her! Take a few moments to read her inspiring interview, and feel free to share this story with the loved ones in your life.

Congrats on your recent scholarship! Tell us a little about your award and what it means to you personally.

Thank you!

In April  I received a generous regional ‘Carolina’ scholarship of a one-time $1000 donation through Cancer For College for the 2013-2014 academic year.  I am significantly humbled to receive this honorable scholarship award, and deeply appreciative for the financial support.  I plan to use this scholarship to help cover the additional expenses beyond the initial tuition costs, while continuing my education in Human Services at Southern Wesleyan University. Without the generosity of scholarship patrons like this, there would be many students, much like myself, struggling to meet various educational expenses. 

Tell us a little bit about your story and how you survived through breast cancer?

There were five children in our family, four girls and a boy. By birth order, Gail was second to the oldest and I was the youngest. Despite the age difference of 14 years, we were connected genetically, shared a spiritual bond, and had become the best of friends.

In 2004 Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, she was forty-eight years old. Gail was a nurse, so she began to strongly encourage the women in her life to obtain a mammogram. Her persistent encouragement inspired me, and I, reluctantly, scheduled my first and consequently the last mammogram of my life. Two weeks later the results of my mammogram revealed suspicious spots in need of biopsy. Within three months further tests had revealed that I too, had the most aggressive form of what is classified as ‘triple negative’ (high grade – ER/PR-negative, HER2Neu negative) infiltrating ductile carcinoma breast cancer.

I found myself following behind my sister, stepping carefully in her footprints, mapping out my own cancer treatment and surgery. Soon, Gail and I were side-by-side in our journey, as our bi-weekly chemotherapy appointments were only offset by one week of each other. After six months of treatment, we were blessed to have 2 years of remission.

Unfortunately, her cancer returned with a vengeance in 2006 and sadly, Gail passed away. Gail’s compassion for life, desire to mentor, and willingness to share her experiences provided me with a heightened appreciation for the “gift of the present.”

Did you have breast reconstruction surgery? If so, what type of breast reconstruction did you have? Would you recommend it to other women who might be contemplating natural breast reconstruction?

Yes, after my diagnosis and meeting with multiple physicians, oncologist and plastic surgeons along with a significant amount of research; I chose to have bi-lateral skin-sparing mastectomies, with immediate DIEP reconstruction. I was blessed to discover Dr. Craigie and Dr. Kline of the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction. Their office staff graciously coordinated the details of my surgery. The overall attention to detail, kindness and care which I received from Dr. Craigie and his professional staff was absolutely priceless. I simply cannot express the impact this has made on my life, during treatment and my recovery. Not only would I recommend this procedure to other women, I have recommended it and will continue to do so.

What is the one thing you want all women to know about breast cancer?

First and foremost, aggressive breast cancer among young women is on the rise in America. One of the best ways for detection of breast cancer is through a mammogram, in my case, my first and last mammogram saved my life!

Upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, become your own best advocate by asking questions (remember there are no ‘dumb’ questions) and seeking out answers. Knowing all the surgical and reconstruction options is very important in making an informed decision.

I must add that, during this journey, I became significantly aware of the importance in human compassion during cancer diagnosis and treatment. When diagnosed with breast cancer, women often experience a feeling of their womanliness being robbed by breast cancer surgery and treatment. Flap reconstruction procedures are better than former surgical reconstruction options. However, in my opinion DIEP is the gold standard of reconstruction because it provides the least problems, offers a faster return to normal activities, and has a better long term surgical outcome than most other reconstruction options available.


You have achieved so much and given back since being diagnosed with cancer. What is next for you in life?

Surviving the diagnosis of breast cancer has helped to clarify my personal worldview and pinpoint my calling in life to serve others. In doing so, I am currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree human services program, with aspirations to complete a graduate degree in social work, counselor education or youth development leadership. I plan to combine my degree with my life experience, in order to advocate, mentor, and assist people by teaching and helping with navigating higher education and oncology healthcare systems. By obtaining a bachelor’s degree in higher learning, I believe that my life will be enriched and I will be better prepared to fulfill this mission.

The journey of life and learning continue to propel us forward and provides opportunities to examine our mirrors of reflection introspectively and reflectively. All-the-while, our heart’s motive is revealed to us and becomes better illuminated and more transparent with time. I am forever grateful to live on my sister’s coattail, because my cancer diagnosis helped me blaze my life’s pathway. It is through her death and my battle with breast cancer that I have grown into a better person with an intimate knowledge of God’s grace, love and mercy. Overall, the ‘gift’ of breast cancer has bestowed upon me a ‘bucket list’ of goals, higher aspirations, and provided multiple opportunities to give back. Indeed, I am blessed.

For more information about me, please feel free to explore my website: www.heidiwalkersermersheim.webnode.com


National Women’s Survivors Convention in Nashville, TN


To transform survivorship from a mood into a movement by empowering, educating, and connecting women whose lives have been touched by cancer.”

~ Vision of the Women Survivors Alliance

The 2013 National Women’s Survivors Convention (NWSC) celebrates women who have conquered cancer, and its founding group is the all-volunteer Women Survivors Alliance. Their mission is “to establish a network where women affected by cancer can find their voice, improve their quality of life, and embrace their new normal.”

The conference will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN from August 22–24, 2013. The convention fee of $139 includes Empowerment sessions, the main stage presentations, the Survivor Chef Challenge panels, “Heeling” for Survivors Fashion Show, and the Red Carpet Live! Pajama Party.

Transportation to and from the convention, hotel, and meals are not included in the registration fee. The Saturday night Salute to Survivors All Star Concert will be held at the Grand Ole Opry and is $36 per person. Hosted by Scott Hamilton, the concert will feature Martina McBride and other Nashville stars.

The Empowerment sessions during the convention will focus on a wide variety of topics related to cancer.

Our own Dr. Craigie will host a session called Know Your Options: Making Smart, Informed Choices Between Breast Reconstruction Procedures.

From the session description: “A well-informed patient who actively participates in decision-making is an essential ingredient of successful outcome in breast reconstruction. Participants will understand the patient-centered approach to choosing breast reconstruction procedures and be introduced to all available options . . . this discussion will be centered around the patient education process, making choices based on that information, and will provide tools and resources giving the participant ideas to organize and assess information proven effective for women facing the decision to have breast reconstruction.”

Other Empowerment sessions include topics such as: stress reduction, sexuality, nutrition, and physical fitness. Guest speakers include Shannon Miller, Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast and ovarian cancer survivor; Tabatha Coffey, TV personality; Diem Brown, MTV personality and cancer survivor; and Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medalist and World Champion figure skater and cancer survivor.

Sponsors and exhibitors include The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, Meals-To-Heal, Eucerin, Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and A Silver Lining Foundation.


In Her Words: Beverly Vote, Publisher of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine

Our staff at the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction warmly welcomes this exclusive interview with Beverly Vote, publisher of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine

The mag­a­zine is a quar­terly, full color printed pub­li­ca­tion that goes directly to thou­sands of breast can­cer patients and sur­vivors in all 50 states as well as to sev­eral thou­sand mas­tec­tomy cen­ters, breast can­cer sup­port groups, and breast can­cer cen­ters and events. In addi­tion, the mag­a­zine is avail­able online. The mag­a­zine was the 2007 recip­i­ent of the Don Ranly Pub­lish­ers Award for Best Issue in its cat­e­gory and a con­tender for Best Arti­cle for the arti­cle “Ser­vice, Strength, and Survival.”

Tell us a little bit about your own story. How was Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine created?

I will never forget the feelings I had in 1992 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38.  I felt very alone and very afraid.  It wasn’t just my health that I was concerned about, but I was deeply worried how it was affecting my family.  Three perfect strangers reached out to me in my darkest hours and provided hope and inspiration at a time when my medical doctors had little to offer.  

The magazine was created because I learned first hand from these three women how important it is to share hope and inspiration with one another.  Twenty one years later, I continue to see the importance in sharing our healing stories. The Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine includes both valuable information from leading experts in the field of integrative medicine but also personal stories from breast cancer thrivers.

Have you noticed certain themes for articles lately? What are the big focus topics today for the magazine?

Themes in blogs and other articles seem to be more centered around empowering our mind, our body and our spirit.  The focus for the Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine continues to include this, as it has since its inception, but the magazine now also campaigns to change self-communication from, “I am a survivor,” to “I am a thriver!”  There is a thriving force in all of us that wants to be experienced, to live life with more passion and joy, and if not after a diagnosis of breast cancer, when?  


There is big buzz around the Thrivers Cruise. What is it and why is this cruise different? What can passengers expect? 

The annual Thrivers Cruise is a fun and celebratory event that brings women together from across the United States.  Every year we have a “Far Out Thriver” contest for the person traveling the farthest to attend the cruise.  For the past two years, the winner has been from Liverpool England, but we have also had women travel from Canada, Belgium, Ireland, Grand Cayman Islands, and Afghanistan. Over 55% are repeat cruisers with many women traveling with us for five consecutive years.  We also have a Pink Celebration Party every year on the cruise, and recognize the Largest Group traveling together, the Best Karaoke, Prettiest Pink T-Shirt contest, and the Funkiest Flip Flop contest.  We recently added the Encourager Award and the Thriving Caregiver award. What is great about the Thrivers Cruise is that it offers the opportunity to do things with new found friends as well as time for personal recreation or with others. For the repeat cruisers, we love seeing friends that we have made from our previous trips.

Every year, we offer a Breast Cancer Thrivers Cruise giveway.  It’s very easy to register to win! The simple qualifications to win are on the website www.BreastCancerWellness.org. It is a random drawing and includes an inside cabin for the winning recipient and the guest of her/his choice. 

Our travel agent for our 8th Annual Breast Cancer Thrivers Cruise 2014 is Connie Saunders, owner of Your Cruise Agents. Connie and her Crew were selected as our travel agency because Connie has a real need to be of service for this annual event…. both her mother and her best friend were diagnosed with breast cancer. Connie knows the power that fellowship and fun provides!

Connie has created an easy monthly payment plan for our group.

What is the one thing you want all women to know about breast cancer?

The most important message that I personally want to convey to anyone facing breast cancer is that we are not powerless over breast cancer and we don’t have to face breast cancer alone. One of the greatest allies we have in this healing journey is the Pink Sisterhood. Connecting with someone who understands what we are going through is life-changing. The Pink Sisterhood is one of the most dynamic forces on earth and is an important resource no matter what age or stage of the journey that we are on.

What is next for the Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine? How is the magazine spreading outside of its pages?

The Breast Cancer Wellness Ambassadors’ program is soon to launch.  This program includes an introduction to the wholistic healing principles specific for breast cancer and tools to help empower our body, mind and spirit after a diagnosis of breast cancer.  Advanced training for the BCW Transformational Leaders and Speakers will also be offered. 

Find out more about Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine and subscribe at: www.BreastCancerWellness.org