From Closet Cervical Cancer Survivor to Bold Cancer Advocate
by Laura Shipp
When Erin Andrews was diagnosed with cervical cancer, she kept the news quiet because she worried it would affect her career. Now, she wants everybody to talk about it.
In September 2016, Erin Andrews was hitting her stride as a double-duty television personality. Long known as the striking blonde reporting from the sidelines of college football broadcasts, she had moved up the ranks of sports reporting to become Fox Sports’ lead NFL sideline reporter. Along with famed play-by-play announcer Joe Buck and former NFL quarterback, now game analyst, Troy Aikman, Erin was covering Fox NFL’s top game for millions of football fans each week. She had also just begun her sixth season as cohost of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.
Earlier that spring, Erin had endured an emotionally draining civil trial against the hotel where a stranger secretly filmed her in the nude. With the high-profile court case now over, having reached a settlement, Erin was looking forward to putting it all behind her and focusing on her work. Then something happened that brought her life to a standstill … if only for a moment.
It was a Saturday morning, and Erin was in a meeting in New York getting ready to cover the NFL Week 3 matchup on FOX when she got some distressing news from her doctor. After an inconclusive annual exam over the summer, Erin’s gynecologist had sent her for follow-up testing. The results were now in. Erin had cervical cancer, and she needed surgery as soon as possible.
“I work in a male-dominated industry, so it’s not something you really want to talk about … ”
“I’m really healthy. I didn’t think I would be a candidate for [cervical cancer],” Erin admits in an interview with Coping, revealing her shock upon first hearing the diagnosis. “I thought I was totally fine and just getting ready for Week 3 in the NFL, and I got a call that I wasn’t. And then I think you just go through panic.”
But Erin didn’t exactly have time to panic. The next day, the New York Giants were facing off against the Washington Redskins, and she had to be ready on the sidelines. So, she put her game face on, did her job, and never let on to her colleagues that she was experiencing personal turmoil.
Nevertheless, Erin says she was really scared because she didn’t know much about cervical cancer or what she was facing. She recalls, “I remember I said to my gynecologist at the time, ‘What do I tell my parents? What do I tell my boyfriend!?’”
Her boyfriend – now her husband – was two-time Stanley Cup winner Jarret Stoll. Erin says he was her strongest supporter through the whole ordeal. “He was amazing. He was a rock through it,” she asserts.
A Strong Work Ethic
When she returned home from New York, Erin spoke with her doctor and scheduled surgery for a Tuesday, since Dancing with the Stars airs live on Monday nights. It was three days before she was supposed to fly out to Green Bay to work the sidelines of the Packers-Cowboys matchup at Lambeau Field.
“My doctor had said that I don’t recommend that you travel, but Green Bay is one of my favorite teams. And it was a huge game, one that I’m NOT going to miss,” Erin emphasizes. “It wasn’t comfortable. And I probably wasn’t well enough to stand for six hours on the field, but I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Erin didn’t miss a single game the entire 2016-2017 season. She also never told anyone outside of her family and close friends that she was going through cancer.
“I work in a male-dominated industry, so it’s not something you really want to talk about,” Erin admits. “I felt like it was something I wanted to keep quiet. I wanted to beat it. I wanted to focus on my job because […] work was often my escape, and I just wanted to concentrate on that and nothing else.”
A Second Opinion
That weekend in Green Bay, Erin got a phone call. More bad news. The first surgery didn’t get all the cervical cancer cells, and her gynecologist was recommending a hysterectomy. Erin was devastated. But Jarret suggested she get a second opinion. As an NHL player, he explained, he always got a second opinion after sustaining any significant injury. Why would cancer be any different?
“[Jarret] came to my oncologist appointments with me afterwards and ended up helping me choose my oncologist,” Erin says. “The best thing I did was get three or four opinions. My oncologist was amazing. He wasn’t all about doomsday.”
“I thought I was totally fine and just getting ready for Week 3 in the NFL, and I got a call that I wasn’t.”
Erin’s oncologist suggested she try for a second surgery to remove her cervical cancer, and to give her the best chance of being able to have children in the future. He also encouraged her and Jarret to freeze some embryos just in case – a plan Jarret was unreservedly on board with, even though he and Erin weren’t even engaged and having kids was a topic they had yet to discuss.
Erin had her second surgery in early November. Two weeks later, on a Monday afternoon while in her dressing room on the set of Dancing with the Stars, just hours before the live show was to begin, Erin got a phone call from her oncologist. The surgery was successful. She was cancer-free.
“When we finally got a great report, it was so relieving and so wonderful,” Erin says. “And then I ended up getting engaged right after.” It was good news all around.
“The message I’m trying to send out to women is you don’t have to die of this. It’s treatable, and it’s curable. But you have to get to the doctor and get screened.”
Now that her ordeal was over, Erin was finally ready to talk about it. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, published two days after Erin covered the NFC Championship Game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers, she revealed to the world that she was a cancer survivor.
“When I came out with that Sports Illustrated article,” Erin says, “it was picked up the next day by every media organization. I remember lying in bed because I knew once it came out people were going to focus on how I had just worked a whole football season and no one knew I had cancer. I didn’t really tell anybody at FOX, and I had bosses calling me about it.”
Her bosses at FOX weren’t the only ones reaching out. Erin says, she had big, macho football players coming up to her at the Super Bowl that year thanking her for sharing her story because women in their lives had also dealt with cervical cancer. Before coming out with her story, she had never realized how many women were affected by the disease. This sparked in her a desire to get more people talking about cervical cancer – and to get more women to go in for their annual exams.
To raise awareness about cervical cancer screening, Erin has teamed up with medical technology company Hologic for the We Can Change This Stat initiative. Together, they are encouraging more women to go in for their annual exams and ask their doctors about Pap+HPV testing. “Every two hours, a woman dies of cervical cancer,” Erin says. “And the message I’m trying to send out to women is you don’t have to die of this. It’s treatable, and it’s curable. But you have to get to the doctor and get screened. Thank the Lord we were able to catch mine so early.”
Cervical cancer is highly treatable when caught early enough like Erin’s was. That’s why regular screening is so important. Visit ChangeThisSTAT.com to learn more.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2019.