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Jaclyn Smith – 'It Changes You Forever'

by Julie McKenna

Celebrity Cancer Survivor


(photo by Charles Bush)

Jaclyn Smith has appeared in more than 50 movies and TV shows, most notably in the TV series Charlie’s Angels in the late 1970s, and in 1989 she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1985 she pioneered the idea of celebrities creating their own brands when she developed her own clothing line for Kmart stores. Most recently in 2002, she established a home furnishings collection at the same time she was taking on a different kind of challenge: breast cancer.

In a recent interview with Coping® magazine, Jaclyn recalls how a seemingly ordinary summer turned into one that would change her life forever. In the summer of 2002, Jaclyn was preparing to spend several weeks in New York where her daughter was going to be attending dance school. “We were packing up, getting ready to leave for the summer, and I had made appointments to take care of yearly checkups, like the dentist and a mammogram,” Jaclyn remembers. “And I went in to see Dr. Armando Giuliano for my mammogram. We did the mammogram and Dr. Giuliano said, ‘You know, I see a few little things here; I think it’s nothing, but we’re going to biopsy it.’ And I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ I’m thinking it’s nothing, so I’m not even concerned.

“I remember thinking, I can’t let them see my fear. I’ve got to be strong.”

“So we do the core biopsy and the needle biopsy and I come back the next day,” Jaclyn continues. “I’m thinking everything is good. And then the physician’s assistant comes in and asks, ‘Did you drive here alone?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ I’m still not realizing anything might be wrong,” Jaclyn says, laughing. “I was thinking to myself, why would I have somebody drive me here? It’s nothing, right? And then Dr. Giuliano comes in and says he has some bad news. It’s cancer.”

Jaclyn was completely unprepared. She felt healthy and she had no family history of breast cancer, so it had just never occurred to her that she might get cancer. “At that point I was overwhelmed with fear,” Jaclyn admits. “You know the word ‘cancer,’ but you just don’t ever associate it with yourself.”

Together with her family and her doctor, Jaclyn decided the best treatment for her would be a lumpectomy followed by radiation. But Jaclyn’s primary concern was not her treatment, but how her daughter, who was 16 at the time, and her son, who was 20, would react. It was hard on both of them, but more so for her daughter. “I remember thinking, I can’t let them see my fear. I’ve got to be strong,” says Jaclyn. “And so, it’s like your heart is pounding out of your chest, but you can’t let your children see that. You always think no one’s going to love your kids like you do and that you need to be there for them.”

Despite their fear, her children were supportive, as was the rest of her family. As soon as Jaclyn called her family members and friends to tell them about her diagnosis, they were all there by her side. “I had my mother, my brother flew in, my husband, and my girlfriends,” Jaclyn says. “They surrounded me and uplifted me with so much love. And my girlfriends really supported me through the eight weeks of radiation – I never went to an appointment alone.”

Ironically, that summer turned out to be the most productive summer of her life. “I flew through that summer,” laughs Jaclyn. “I launched a furniture line, I did a cameo in the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle movie, and I started a reoccurring role on the CBS series The District. It ended up being this incredible summer of work and family and friends, and it changed me. It made me realize how much I had to be thankful for.”

Now, four years later, Jaclyn is still grateful for every moment she spends with her family. But she still feels like having cancer was a kind of wake-up call. “When something like this happens to you, you begin to think, what does it all mean? I have always been grateful for family and for all that I’ve been given, but I realized it’s something deeper than that. It’s just a realization of how things can change in a moment. So having cancer does make you try to be better at everything you do and enjoy every moment. It changes you forever. But it can be a positive change.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

For more information about Jaclyn visit www. jaclynsmith.com.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2006.