Understanding Breast Cancer
- Actress Alicia Witt, 46, recently opened up about her private battle with breast cancer less than a year after suddenly losing her parents.
- The former Orange is the New Black actress shared a few photos and videos to Instagram on Wednesday of the moment she struck a gong about two months ago to mark the end of her chemotherapy treatment.
- There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Alicia was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer.
The former Orange is the New Black actress shared a few photos and videos to Instagram on Wednesday of the moment she struck a gong about two months ago to mark the end of her chemotherapy treatment.Read More
View this post on Instagram
“Just a little over 2 months ago, i had my last round of chemical therapy prior to my mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast),” Alicia posted to Instagram alongside photos and videos of herself wearing a therapy cap, which helps minimize chemotherapy-related hair loss.
“Although we didn’t yet know for absolute certain until after the mastectomy that the disease was completely healed from my left breast, this marked the end of my carboplatin/taxotere, + herceptin/perjeta (the latter two are immunotherapies which will continue, per protocol for HER2+, through the end of this year),” she added.
“I’m so grateful to all those along the way during treatment who honored me by protecting my privacy during these months 🙏🏻 and grateful to help share that these caps can truly play a huge role in allowing a patient to reveal her journey on her own time, when she is ready.”
Alicia Witt Kept Her Cancer Battle Private
Alicia Witt said that being able to keep the news of her cancer diagnosis private was a “much needed part of my healing.” The healing she’s referring to is the sudden loss of her parents, Robert and Diane Witt.
Robert and Diane were found dead in their Worcester, Mass., home in December of last year, which also happened to be around the same time Alicia started treatment. The elder Witts are believed to have died from hypothermia, and there were some reports that they were “ailing and infirm,” and that their furnace had broken during a harsh winter.
“It’s been a month since I got scared, not having heard back from them, and called to have them checked on,” Alicia posted to social media about a month after her parents’ deaths, speaking publicly on the matter for the first time. She decried the media fascination with her parents’ death and said they’d always tried fiercely to protect their privacy.
View this post on Instagram
“Waiting, phone in hand, praying fervently that the next call would be from them, angry I’d gotten someone else involved. Knowing as soon as I heard the detective’s voice on the other line that they were gone. Knowing I would never hear their voices again. Beginning the rest of my life of finding them on the breeze, in a song, in a dream,” she continued.
“i am deeply grateful for the gift of having been able to quietly travel to Worcester earlier this month for a beautiful service and burial, to mourn and to celebrate them in total privacy,” she posted to Instagram on Jan. 25. “i will forever be indebted to Mercadante Funeral Home for going to great lengths to make this possible.”
“thank you, also, to all those who have reached out with your memories about my parents. they were brilliant educators, deeply kind, curious, intuitive, wise, young at heart, funny — there will never be enough adjectives to describe them.”
Battling cancer is an extremely personal experience, and so is choosing who to tell about your diagnosis. For some people, it’s a no-brainer to share their struggle and absorb as much support as possible, while for others, sharing the news isn’t so casual, especially after suffering another tragedy, like losing your parents.
Dr. Marianna Strongin, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Strong In Therapy Psychology, previously told SurvivorNet that whether someone shares this heavy news is their personal preference.
“I recommend sharing, I’m a therapist,” Strongin said with a laugh, “but to whom and how many people is up to the person (with cancer).”
Like Alicia Witt, there are plenty of people who have chosen not to share their cancer battle publicly. While Strongin says that she encourages sharing, she also recognizes there’s a personality factor at play when it comes to whether a person shares this deeply personal news; some people are more willing to share, and some are just more private, Strongin added. The difference is in how the information is processed.
But remember, there’s no right way to accept your diagnosis. There’s no handbook, there’s no wrong way, either. So, regardless of what you decide, “everyone should focus on what makes them feel good,” Strongin said.
“There’s a difference between telling people ‘I’m sick’ versus ‘I was sick,’ and I think a lot of people want to wait for that moment,” Strongin added.
But the caveat in these situations, she said, is that you want to make sure sharing, if you choose to, provides you with support; a strong support system is fundamental when it comes to battling cancer.
“If it creates anxiety and burden and worry, that’s something to look at,” Strongin said; added anxiety and worry during a cancer battle is the last thing you need.
So, do what makes you feel good; it’s your fight and only you know the right way to navigate through it.
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that’s been the subject of much research. Many women (like Alicia Witt) develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer, too — though it’s more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Alicia was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer.
Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors — the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor — can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors — I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell — they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2-positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
“The good news is there are so many different treatments and options available, and doctors really are attuned to trying to understand patients better, to figure out what are their individual needs,” Dr. Comen said.