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Suzanne Somers isn’t one to follow convention, especially when it comes to her own health.
The actress — best known for her role as Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company — entrepreneur, and author is sharing her breast cancer diagnosis story and why she chose to forgo chemotherapy, along with advice for other survivors.
In 2001, Somers, then headlining in Las Vegas, went to get her annual mammogram. All of sudden, she says, “the energy changes in the room.” The technician had spotted a suspicious mass. Somers found out later that she had a 2.4-centimeter tumor in her right breast.
“When you hear those three words, ‘You have cancer’ — wow — that’s coming face to face with your mortality,” Somers tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “You never think that you’re not here forever.”
But she also managed to find some humor in it. “I thought, how ironic — I was known on ‘Three’s Company’ as the Queen of the Jiggle,” referring to her breasts. “I believe this happened to me because I was a sex symbol — whatever that is,” meaning that she could use her platform to help others.
Somers had a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed by radiation.
But she refused to get chemotherapy despite her doctor’s recommendation, opting for alternative medicine instead.
“My cancer has become a veiled gift,” she says, “because when confronted with standard of care — the standard treatment protocol for cancer [being] radiation, chemotherapy, and after-care drugs — I looked at the doctor and I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ And he said, ‘But you’ll die.’ And I said, ‘I honestly believe I will die if I do what you tell me. The idea of flooding my body with chemical poison just doesn’t reckon with who I am.”
Following her lumpectomy — which removed so much of her right breast it was practically as if she’d had a mastectomy — her surgeon also suggested an implant, but Somers didn’t want anything “foreign” in her body. So her doctor suggested doing a TRAM flap reconstruction, which involves taking the blood vessels, fat, and skin from the stomach to create a new breast. “I said, ‘You know what? Just sew me up,” she says. “Something better is going to come along.”
Somers adds: “That was the best decision I made.”
In the meantime, Somers wore a breast insert and, for three or four years, treated herself with injections of mistletoe extract — also known as Iscador — from Switzerland, to strengthen her immune system.
While the FDA has not approved mistletoe extract as a treatment for cancer, it is one of the most widely studied forms of complementary and alternative medicine and is among the most prescribed treatments for patients with cancer in Europe, according to the National Cancer Institute.
After her diagnosis, Somers also decided that she would change her life, looking at her diet and lifestyle habits. She hadn’t been prioritizing sleep, and in fact shares that she would often stay up until 3 a.m. to write her books while everyone was sleeping. “Sleep is a game-changer,” she says. “I decided to eat as though my life depended on it. And that I would eliminate negative thoughts, and I would think of everything from a place of gratitude.”
Somers makes a gratitude list every day and recommends that people do the same before bed each night. “What choices did I make today that took me towards the awful paradigm of aging — decrepit, frail, Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, nursing home?” she says. “Or, what choices did I make today that took me towards health?”
A few years after her lumpectomy, Somers found a plastic surgeon in Japan, Kotaro Yoshimura, who was doing an experimental procedure, reportedly “regrowing the breasts” of Japanese women using their own stem cells instead of implants. Somers, who had been working with plastic surgeon Joel Aronowitz, MD, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, had Yoshimura fly out to Los Angeles to teach Aronowitz the process.
Aronowitz then removed fat from Somers’s stomach, separated out the stem cells, put them into congealed fat, and injected the substance back into Somers’s breast to fill it out again. “It all came back together again,” she says. “Really, when they showed me, I cried. I’d gotten so used to being without it. Imagine if you lost a body part and then it grew back? I had been without for 11 years and it grew back. And I had full feeling. It’s a miracle.”
When women who have dealt with breast cancer ask Somers for advice, she encourages them to educate themselves about the disease and treatments. “We go to the doctor like children, expecting the doctor to totally take charge of us and take care of us,” she says. “The more educated you go in to any doctor, the better they like to work with you because they don’t have to start at kindergarten.”
And then, she says, “Decide for yourself what resonates.”
Somers also suggests that women dealing with breast cancer try to “look for the good” — something that is not an easy task when coping with cancer. “As someone who has survived breast cancer, you can be a victim, and ‘poor me’ and ‘why did this happen to me?’” she says. “And I don’t mean that in a cold or judgmental way at all. But what good does that do you? How is that going to inspire others, move you forward as a person? Everything that happens to us as individuals is an opportunity for growth, spiritually and emotionally.”
For Somers, being diagnosed with breast cancer was like a wake-up call. “This made me closer to the god of my understanding,” she says. “This made me appreciate health in a way that I never did before. I believe I’m going to be here until 120 years or longer because of the way I take care of myself.”
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