Thriving After Breast Cancer
- Actress and breast cancer survivor Cynthia Nixon plays Miranda Hobbes on the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That…, and she’s loving that her character is openly queer in the new series.
- Nixon found a lump in her breast in 2006. She treated her stage 1 breast cancer with six weeks of radiation, a lumpectomy and five years of the hormone therapy, Tamoxifen.
- Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment options out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
- A cancer diagnosis will change your life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t thrive on the other side of your cancer journey.
Nixon lives in NYC with her wife, activist Christine Marinoni, 55, and their child Max Ellington Nixon-Marinoni. The couple has been married since 2012, but Nixon was previously in a longterm relationship with Danny Mozes whom she shares her other two children with – Samuel Joseph and Charles Ezekiel Mozes.Read More
“I was like, ‘Sure, why not!’” Nixon told Variety. “If we’re trying to do different stuff, and show different worlds, and show different aspects of these characters, why not do that?”
She’s even said she thinks Hobbes was always queer.
“Even though she was only really interested in men, I think that Miranda had many other queer and frankly, lesbianic qualities about her,” she said. “And I think for a lot of gay women, she — we didn’t have a gay woman! But she was a stand-in for the gay women we didn’t have.”
“Miranda has always grappled with power, and female power versus male power, and women getting the short end of the stick — and that’s a big issue for women who are queer. I think not having to be under a man’s thumb has always been one of the very appealing things that being with another woman has to offer.”
Cynthia Nixon’s Cancer Battle
Although Nixon seems to be in a good place in her life and career, there’s no denying she’s been through many ups and downs – including her breast cancer battle.
Nixon found a lump in her breast in 2006. Thankfully, her cancer was found at stage 1. And though breast cancer is always a serious diagnosis, Nixon remained calm throughout her cancer journey.
“When I was diagnosed, my wife —who was not my wife at the time because there wasn’t yet gay marriage in New York—went into shock about it,” she told Parade. “She was really scared. I was much less scared because I understood they caught it very early. It hadn’t metastasized at all. And it was in this one very local, small place.”
She went on to say that her mother was a big reason she took the news so well.
“My mother had breast cancer when I was 13, and she survived,” she said. “Because of not only my mother’s experience, but also my mother’s attitude, I viewed it with caution.”
For treatment, Nixon underwent a lumpectomy and six-and-a-half weeks of radiation followed by the hormone therapy Tamoxifen for five years.
“I did all the things advised for me to do, but I tried my best to keep my fear to a minimum,” Nixon said.
Nixon’s cancer was caught at a routine mammogram. She began her mammograms at age 35 because of her mother’s breast cancer.
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is 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. 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 Importance of Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
Thriving as a Survivor
A cancer diagnosis will change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Cynthia Nixon, it is more than possible to thrive on the other side of your cancer journey.
Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.
“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”
She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.
“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”