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For Marcia Strassman, Life Goes On

by Laura Shipp

For over two decades, celebrities have entrusted Coping® to tell the world about their personal experience with cancer. We are proud to present this exclusive interview from our archives and hope that it will inspire and encourage all who read it. This article was originally published in Coping with Cancer magazine, March/April 2009.

(photos by Dana Patrick)

When actress Marcia Strassman was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she decided that she - not cancer - would take control of her health... and her life.

Actress Marcia Strassman has always played the role of nurturer – from nurse Margie Cutler in the classic series M*A*S*H, to Gabe Kaplan’s wife in Welcome Back Kotter, to mom, Diane Szalinski, in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie franchise, and to her own real-life daughter, Lizzie. Now, in what might be considered her most important role to date, Marcia again wants to play the role of nurturer, but this time to a new audience – breast cancer survivors.

In March 2007, Marcia discovered a large mound on her left breast. She immediately went to her gynecologist and a radiologist for a diagnosis; it was cancer. Then following surgery to remove the cancer, Marcia learned that it had spread to her bones. Suddenly, she was faced with the daunting challenge of learning how to live with metastatic disease.

Recently, Marcia spoke with Coping® magazine about how the diagnosis has affected her life and about what she is doing now to help other women (and men) with breast cancer cope with the disease.

“The first thing I did when I found out I had cancer was call every doctor I knew to find the best specialist,” Marcia says. “I am a very proactive person, and for me, if there is something wrong, you do something about it.”

Since her diagnosis was Stage IV breast cancer that had spread to her bones, it was imperative that she start on a treatment protocol right away to manage both the cancer and her bone health. Her doctors put her on an aromatase inhibitor to control the disease and an IV bisphosphonate to strengthen her bones. Every 28 days without fail, Marcia makes the 45-minute drive to her oncologist for her 15-minute bisphosphonate infusion.

As someone who is exceedingly diligent about making sure she follows her prescribed treatment regimen, Marcia was surprised to learn that not everyone takes that same hands-on approach. “It is shocking to me that there are so many people who don’t take their medication,” she says. Now, she is on a mission to educate people about the importance of becoming active participants in their own healthcare.

“I am alive, and I am living a full, active life. I know it sounds very cliché, but I try to ‘live for the moment.’”

“I am very lucky in that while I am not a huge celebrity, I have enough recognition that I can be heard,” Marcia says. “I am not out here to tell anybody how to feel or how to talk to their families. I am not a doctor. But the message that I want to get out is (a) talk to your doctor; be able to have an open dialogue with your doctor, and (b) take your medicine, and take it on time.” Marcia makes sure she follows her own advice. After vigilant adherence to her treatment routine for almost two years, Marcia’s recent bone scans show that the damage to her bones has remained relatively unchanged. Good news for anyone coping with metastatic cancer.

Though the past two years have been challenging – the most challenging part for her being figuring out how to tell her then 20-year-old daughter about her diagnosis – Marcia tries to focus on the positives. “I think that is just who I am,” she says. “I have always been ridiculously optimistic about life in general.” A trait that pays off in the fickle realm of show business as well as in the uncertain world of living with metastatic breast cancer.

Determined to not let cancer control her life, Marcia tries to enjoy the same active lifestyle she did before she had cancer. “If you treat yourself like a sick person, you are going to be a sick person,” she says. “I am alive, and I am living a full, active life. I hike with my dog. I visit my daughter at college. I go to the theater. I have many fabulous friends and a very full social life – too full probably. I know it sounds very cliché, but I try to ‘live for the moment.’”

Though Marcia has been given a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, she is vibrant proof that life can, and does, go on.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Marcia Strassman is currently working with Novartis Pharmaceuticals to get the word out about the importance of medication compliance.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2009.