Family Ties Mom and Breast Cancer Survivor
by Julie McKenna
Meredith Baxter is best known for playing one of America’s favorite TV moms, Elyse Keaton, in the 1980s sitcom Family Ties. Since then, Meredith has enjoyed a successful career as an actress in dozens of TV movies and specials, such as A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, A Mother’s Fight for Justice, and Other Mothers. She also created her own production company, a line of skin care products, and is founder of the Meredith Baxter Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.
Meredith set up her Foundation after working on My Breast, a made-for-TV movie based on the true story about Joyce Wadler, a New York City journalist who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ironically, this was long before Meredith herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Meredith admits that she did not know very much about breast cancer before she began working on the movie. “I had all of these preconceived ideas about what breast cancer was about,” says Meredith, in a recent interview with Coping®. “I thought you could only get it if your mother had it, and otherwise, you were fine. And that you wouldn’t get it until you were over 50 anyway.” Then Meredith signed on as lead actress and co-executive producer of My Breast and changed her mind about everything she thought she knew.
“In the course of doing pre-production research for the movie, I met a lot of women who were absolutely amazing,” remembers Meredith. “They were so honest and willing to talk and had so much character and courage; it just astonished me. Being involved in this movie showed me that I had a lot to learn and that we have a long way to go in breast cancer research. So I set up the Meredith Baxter Foundation for Breast Cancer Research to which I donate part of the profits from my line of skin care products.”
“I thought you could only get it if your mother had it, and otherwise, you were fine.”
Years later, Meredith discovered she had early stage breast cancer through her regular mammogram. Her doctor recommended surgery, but Meredith opted to try an alternative treatment first, since it was diagnosed at such an early stage. “I did not want to do surgery,” Meredith says. “It’s hard to embrace doing surgery when your doctors are saying, ‘It’s the best kind of breast cancer you can possibly get! This is not a big deal; it’s hardly cancer!’ So I spent a couple months doing kinesiology and diet, which did nothing. Then I decided to go back and have surgery. I had two lumpectomies.”
Meredith’s children were a huge source of support for her throughout her diagnosis and surgeries, even if they were not enthusiastic about her choice of alternative treatment. “My children were amazing. They got on the Internet right away and started doing all the research. And because of that they went nuts when I decided to do kinesiology,” Meredith says, laughing. “They were bouncing off the walls, so upset that this was what I was trying. Because they really felt that you’ve got to do the recommended treatment.
“And at the time, I was married to someone who really would have loved to have been supportive if he’d known how,” Meredith continues, talking about her ex-husband. “But he was really kind of caught up in the drama of him losing a breast: mine. So the marriage ended the way it was doomed to end.”
Today Meredith remains focused on helping fight the battle against breast cancer, but she doesn’t feel like it has changed the direction her life is taking. “I don’t know that cancer has really affected my life too much,” Meredith says. “I was kind of on a spiritual path anyway. And this just sort of embraced all of that. I can’t say that cancer changed my life; it changed the size of my right breast. That’s really what it did.”
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Meredith donates a portion of the proceeds from her line of skin care products to the Meredith Baxter Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. For more information visit www.meredithbaxtersimpleworks.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2003.