Famous Women Who Battled Gynecological Cancers
September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month and as you know we’ve been bringing you stories of women who’ve battled cervical, ovarian, and vaginal cancers through our ongoing Survivor Series.
Cervical cancer, once one of the most common causes of cancer death in American women, kills more than 4,000 women each year. Most cases occur in women between the ages of 35 and 55, but the good news is that when it’s caught early enough, cervical cancer is highly treatable. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women ages 35-74. An estimated 1 in 71 women will develop ovarian cancer during her lifetime. If the cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages, the 5-year survival rate is over 90%, but because of ovarian cancer’s non-specific symptoms and lack of early detection tests, only 19% of all cases are found at this early stage.
If you or someone you know has been affected by a gynecologic cancer, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Here we share a list of famous women who battled gynecologic cancers.
Coretta Scott King
After the death of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King carried on the slain Civil Rights activist’s legacy and took an active approach in the struggle for racial equality. Scott King was also an ardent supporter in the women’s movement and LBGT fight for equality. She remained active up until her health started to deteriorate in 2005. Scott King checked into a medical facility in Mexico under a different name for holistic therapy to treat complications of a stroke and advanced stages of ovarian cancer. She passed away in Mexico in January of 2006 from respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer.
Fran Drescher’s signature cackle is as annoying as it is identifiable. But it was no laughing matter when, after two years of being misdiagnosed, Drescher found out she had uterine cancer. She immediately had a hysterectomy to treat the disease and was then given a clean bill of health with no further treatment needed. The “Nanny” star wrote about her battle with the disease in her book “Cancer Schmancer” and on the seventh anniversary of her operation, Drescher started the Cancer Schmancer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all women’s cancers be diagnosed while in Stage 1, the most curable stage.
Kathy Bates first made her acting debut in theater before switching to film and television. She rose to prominence after walking away with both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Actress thanks to her role in the 1990 psychological thriller “Misery.” In 2002, Bates took some time off after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After undergoing treatment, Bates was free and clear to return back to her hectic schedule. However, two years ago Bates announced on twitter than she had been diagnosed breast cancer and had a double mastectomy.
Yvette Wilson got her big break on the short-lived sitcom “Thea.” Despite the show’s quick cancellation, Wilson’s career took off and soon she was cast in “Moesha” as Andrell Wilkerson and later left that show for its spin-off “The Parkers.” Despite her success, Wilson was facing mounting medical bills that she incurred while battling both cervical cancer and kidney disease. Friends created a website for fans to donate money to help with her rising medical costs. Sadly, Wilson passed away from cancer in 2012 at the age of 48.
Henrietta Lacks went down in medical history after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951. Unbeknownst to Lacks, two samples of her cervix were removed and given to researcher George Gey who realized her cells could be kept alive and grow. He was able to isolate one specific cell, multiply it, and start an immortal cell line, which he named HeLa. This was an amazing discovery and a boon to medical research, but a huge violation to Lacks, who never knew her cells were taken. Later, the cancer spread throughout Lacks’ body and she passed away in October of 1951.
Millions of women have grown up reading Judy Blume’s books. The famed author was one of the first to write novels for teenagers that discussed sensitive topics like racism, menstruation, bullying and divorce, something that was unheard of back then. In 2012, Blume penned a post on her blog that brought many of her readers to tears. She revealed she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and 18 years earlier she had undergone a hysterectomy due to cervical cancer. Blume’s 1981 novel “Tiger Eyes” was adapted for the silver screen in 2012.
Marissa Jaret-Winokur may be best known for playing Tracy Turnblad in the Tony award-winning musical adaptation of “Hairspray.” After she started her run with the Broadway show in 2001, Winokur was diagnosed with cervical cancer but she kept it a secret from her fellow cast members so they wouldn’t worry about her. The former “Dancing with the Stars” contestant had a hysterectomy but doctors were able to preserve her ovaries. She and her husband Judah Miller welcomed a son in 2008 who was born via surrogacy.
Jade Goody rose to fame in the U.K. by starring in several reality shows. The English star became infamous after she was kicked off of “Celebrity Big Brother 5” for racially bullying Indian actress Shilpa Shetty. In 2008, Goody began filming India’s version of “Big Brother” but she was forced to leave the show early after she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Despite her courageous and public battle with the disease, soon the cancer was spreading throughout Goody’s body. She lost her battle in March 2009, exactly one month after marrying her “Celebrity Big Brother” castmate Jack Tweed.
Tamra Barney joined the “Real Housewives of Orange County” during its third season and has been a part of the show ever since. While breast implants are nothing new, especially in sunny California, cameras followed Barney into the operating room not to get new breast implants put in but to have the old ones taken out. Barney appeared on “Dr. Oz” and explained that the implants were taken out for a very important health reason. “I had a little health scare,” Barney told the celebrity doctor. “I was going through this divorce. I go to the doctor and I have lumps in my breasts and I had cervical cancer that had to be removed.”
Back when Eva Peron was diagnosed with cervical cancer, it was common practice to keep the patient in the dark about the seriousness of the disease and the subsequent treatment. The former First Lady of Argentina, more commonly called Evita, was told she had a uterine problem and the doctor came in the surgery room only after she was placed under anesthesia. Peron was treated with radiation, chemotherapy and a lobotomy for the pain but her condition worsened. She passed away in 1952 at the age of 33.
Liz Lange tapped into a brand new market when she borrowed $50,000 from family to launch her own line of maternity wear in the late 90’s. Credited for being one of the first designers to create high-end fashionable maternity clothes, Lange is considered a pioneer in her industry. In 2001, Lange was busy running her empire and juggling raising two young children when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She became a vocal supporter of cervical cancer awareness. “Since my hysterectomy, I’ve been cancer-free for almost eight years,” Lange said in an interview. “Now I feel absolutely compelled to tell my story, because it really shows how it can happen to anyone.”