The statistics on cancer are staggering. According to The National Cancer Institute, 1,735,350 Americans are diagnosed with some form of cancer each year, and 609,640 people lose their fight to the disease. More specifically, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetimes, and 1 in 7 men will battle prostate cancer. But the silver lining of these harrowing statistics is that approximately 50 percent of people come out on the other side — many of them your friends and family while others are the celebrities you read about.
In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, we’ve rounded up some of the most inspiring tales of survival from Hollywood. These men and women kicked cancer’s ass and continue to give back to the fight against it.
Julia Louis Dreyfus
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, Veep star Julia Louis Dreyfus has approached her battle with optimism. “1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one,” she wrote on social media last year. Since then, she has undergone surgery and has been vocal about her journey via Twitter and Instagram, where her fans provide words of support and encouragement. She is currently in recovery.
In 2001, Mark Ruffalo dreamed that he had a brain tumor, and when he went to get it checked out by a doctor, it turned out that he wasn’t dreaming. “The whole experience of getting close to mortality changed my perspective on work. I wasn’t enjoying acting before: I felt like I wasn’t in charge of my career. I wasn’t doing things that made me feel good. I was really bitter, I thought I deserved more, and I wasn’t grateful for all the great shit that had happened to me. If you’re not grateful, then it’s very easy to be an asshole,” he told The Guardian in an interview four years after his diagnosis. “After the brain tumor happened, I realized I love acting, I’ve always loved it, I may never get a chance to do it again.”
The Samantha Who star underwent a double mastectomy in 2008 after doctors found a cancerous lump in her breast. She credited her mom, who is also a cancer survivor, for inspiring her to stay strong throughout her journey. Applegate has since become an advocate for early detection and founded an organization that offers free MRI’s to women at risk for breast cancer. “When I was able to find my cancer in the stage I did, my passion for wanting to do something for these women was beyond what I could express,” she said in an interview with WebMD.
For Cynthia Nixon, life imitated art when she was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine exam (you may remember something similar happened to Sex and the City’s Samantha during the show’s final season). “I feel that between my experience and my mother’s [the actress’s mother lost her battle to the disease], breast cancer is a little bit like someone who lives next door,” the actress told the New York Times. “I know what that person looks like and what their daily habits are. I mean, I get my ultrasounds and stuff, so I think I’m less scared than if I didn’t do that.” She is now running for governor of New York, with one of her issues being women’s healthcare.
The Les Miserables actor has undergone six surgeries since 2013 to remove signs of basal cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer, from his face. “Another basal cell carcinoma. Thanks to frequent body checks and amazing doctors, all is well. Looks worse with the dressing on than off. I swear!” he wrote alongside a post-surgery selfie in February 2017. He followed it up with the hashtag #wearsunscreen.
Photo: @giulianarancic official Instagram
In 2011, E! host Giuliana Rancic made an announcement via The Today Show that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently underwent a double mastectomy. “If I could erase all this, I would. But I can’t, so I look at the positive,” she said in an interview with CNN in 2012. “It made me a stronger and a better person. It definitely shifted my priorities.”
The Zoolander actor told Howard Stern that his June 2014 prostate cancer diagnosis “came out of the blue.” In 2016, though, he told Matt Lauer that he was “really doing great” and was “really fortunate that my course of treatment was basically an operation and that was it.”
Photo: @kylieminogue official Instagram
After being misdiagnosed by her doctor, Australian singer Kylie Minogue found out she had an early stage of breast cancer in 2005. “So my message to all of you and everyone at home is, because someone is in a white coat and using big medical instruments doesn’t necessarily mean they are right,” she told Ellen DeGeneres in 2008, advising women to trust their intuition.
The country star was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, and her experience of survival subsequently inspired her to adopt a baby. “I had this clear picture of what my life was going to look like: I’m going to get married and have kids,” she told Glamour. “You create your mythology, but sometimes it’s based on a perception that isn’t the truth about you. Having cancer made me say, OK, what is it I want from my life?’ I thought, If I want to be a mom, there are kids out there that need moms. I think you choose your family. And I did.”