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Actress Rita Wilson Talks About Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis & Why Women Must Take Control of Their Treatment

Award-winning actress, singer, and songwriter Rita Wilson is a tour de force in every way – but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, she admits, it stopped her cold. Facing a terrifying diagnosis, Wilson says she felt compelled to sit down with her husband, Tom Hanks, to have a serious discussion about her own mortality – which became the inspiration behind her hit song, “Throw Me a Party” (also check out the music video… it’s incredible!)

Now cancer-free, Wilson is using her voice to spread awareness and hope to other women facing the disease. We recently sat down with Wilson to talk about how listening to her gut, music, and laughing got her through one of the most difficult periods of her life.

1. What is the most important thing for women to know about taking care of their breast health?

If something feels off, get a second opinion. Following a diagnosis of two high-risk conditions, I had a number of lumpectomies. After one of them, I asked my doctor a question about the results that didn’t sit well with me – my gut was telling me that something was wrong.

Then, a girlfriend of mine suggested I get a second opinion on my pathology, something I’d never even heard of before. At the time, I was in New York doing a play on Broadway – but I was introduced to a new doctor there who ran another test, which ultimately came back positive for cancer. I also got another opinion on that opinion, and it also came back positive for cancer.

2. So, even though you went to really good doctors, you still felt like you needed second and third opinions?

My gut was telling me that something’s not right here. I wasn’t getting the answer I wanted, which was, “you don’t have cancer.” Instead, the answers I kept getting to my questions were vague and not definitive – and that worried me.

3. In addition to following your gut and getting a second opinion, what should women know about making an informed decision about prevention and treatment?

When you hear the words, “you have cancer,” it’s very scary and overwhelming, but nowadays, if you catch it early enough, it’s not a death sentence. And you can make a choice about what’s right for you. What I learned along the way is there are so many types of breast cancers and so many different types of genes that could indicate breast cancer. We know so much more now than we did five years ago.

If you’re facing a breast cancer diagnosis and live near a large city, I would recommend trying to find a good doctor at a major medical center to get surgery, because they have a breadth of knowledge and experience.

In terms of prevention, I would also recommend getting mammograms earlier rather than later in life. The new guidelines say to start at 50, but I would follow the old guidelines which is to start at 40. I’d also recommend getting tested for the BRCA gene, which could mean a higher risk for the disease.

4. What's your advice to women who are in relationships? How do you bring a spouse into such a personal experience? And how do you talk to your kids?

In some ways, you almost get closer because it’s one of the scariest things you’ll face as a couple and as a family. You do have to hunker down and really be honest with each other.

And it’s important to surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Even during the process, Tom would make me laugh. We’d watch funny television and movies. It’s so important.

With my kids, I was honest with them about what was happening. If your children are adults, you can be honest. If you have smaller children, you can reassure them that things are going to be okay.

This Q&A was featured in the Oct. 20th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.