Jeanne Beker on Finding Community and Support Through Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis
"It's such a wonderful feeling to know that you've got so many hands to hold."
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in May of this year at age 70, beloved fashion journalist Jeanne Beker has been candid about her journey. Canadians know her as the stylish icon from Fashion Television, and Beker has been focusing on staying positive and making others less afraid of cancer. Beker started chemotherapy earlier this year and has since been documenting it all—from losing her hair, to the kind nurse who preps her for chemo, to the rigamarole that is a mid-treatment pee break—for her followers on Instagram.
We spoke to Beker about her diagnosis, her support system and how she’s staying upbeat.
What was the diagnosis process like?
I had just had a routine mammogram—I go every two years, though I wish I had been going every year because I didn’t know that people with dense breasts really have to be checked a lot. So, a couple days after my mammogram, my doctor called and said they had discovered something. I had been feeling totally normal—fine, perfect. I never felt anything lumpy in my breasts or anything. They called me back for a biopsy and an ultrasound and MRI. Then I got that call that changed my life—that call that nobody wants to get. Those first few days, as anyone can attest to, were incredibly dark and very scary because you don’t know exactly what’s going on and how bad it is, or if they can treat it. It’s just awful, and you go down 5,000 rabbit holes.
What happened next?
I got an appointment with a doctor at the breast clinic of Princess Margaret Cancer Center. She’s a surgeon, and she immediately made me feel better by telling me that the prognosis is good and the cancer had been caught early. I had to see the oncologist the following week, who’s another rock star—they’re all rock stars at Princess Margaret. The oncologist told me it’s not only treatable, it’s curable. When I heard that, I just felt so relieved. He told me about three different treatment options, and I decided to do 12 rounds of Taxol [a form of chemo], followed by surgery and radiation, because it was a bit easier to maintain my lifestyle with that treatment route. I’m glad I went that way because it was quite tolerable, and I’m done chemo. My surgery will happen later in October.
I’m hanging on and feeling very positive and very grateful. When I was growing up, most people [with cancer] had really bad outcomes. But the landscape has changed. Research, especially in the field of breast cancer, has progressed to such a brilliant degree. Things are changing all the time. So I just feel incredibly lucky. There’s been so many silver linings to this journey as well.
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Tell me about those silver linings?
One of them has been my Instagram. Social media can be the root of all evil, but when used correctly, it can also be an incredible way to communicate and touch people and be touched by people. When I decided to go public with my journey, it wasn’t a big decision at all. I was like, of course I’m going to put it on my Instagram because I’m all about authenticity. And this is something very real that I’m living with. It’s something that I know affects so many women—one in eight women are going to be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Why wouldn’t I want to reach out and tell people who have been watching me and supporting me all these years? I felt I owed it to them—and I owed it to myself—to be that open and honest.
I just actually held the hand of a very dear friend of mine who, for about a year and a half, went through her own cancer journey. It was during the pandemic and she was very alone. She didn’t want to tell anybody. She’s not a public person, so I understand wanting privacy, but I thought at the time that I would never be able to do that. It was just too much of a burden.
So, I started telling people about my diagnosis and the response [on social media] has been phenomenal. The positivity that I was getting back was phenomenally heart-swelling and my spirits were so lifted. Even if they just sent emojis, it was just such a joy to me.
How have your friends and family supported you since the diagnosis?
All my friends have been fantastic. They’re always texting, emailing, calling, checking up on me. Even people I didn’t think I was very close to were asking if there was anything they could do for me. If I needed someone to pick me up for treatment, or go with me to the hospital—that kind of support was just so nice. But I think most importantly, my daughters have been great. My youngest daughter lives in the Yukon and drove all the way out here to be with me. And my other daughter lives nearby and she’s just been fabulous. My sister in LA has been incredibly supportive and positive. Even though I’ve just spoken to her on the phone, she’s offered to come here.
And, first and foremost, my partner. We’ve been together for seven years. He was with me when I got the phone call and without skipping a beat, he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this together.” He comes to all my doctor appointments with me. He’s just my biggest cheerleader, and I’m so lucky to have that kind of support. And then I’ve got my big goldendoodle dog who acts as a therapy dog. He just just comes and cuddles me whenever I need it. I am really looking forward to the [CIBC Run for the Cure] on Sunday, where I’ll talk and meet with other women with breast cancer.
Tell me a bit about your advocacy work around the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure.
The community of women that you find [after you’re diagnosed] is phenomenal. You feel like you’re in some kind of special club with these women. Granted, it’s a club that you may not have wanted to be part of, but once you’re in it, everybody is so supportive of one another. It’s such a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve got so many hands to hold. I think the whole event is just so incredibly inspiring, besides the fact that it raises so many funds.
What do you hope that people learn from your story?
I hope that women become aware of the fact that they better go for a mammogram on a very regular basis. I think a lot of women put it off because it’s not a pleasant experience. But it’s really important to go in!
And, I want to remind people to live your life to its fullest, as much as you can—and appreciate every glorious second of it. I’ve never savored life more. I mean, the whole diagnosis just made me realize how much I was in love with my life. All of a sudden, the world seems like an even more beautiful place. I really hope to be able to stick around for a lot longer.
This interview has been edited and condensed.