Photo source: ABC News
“I’ll never forget it. It was one of the hardest days of my life,” she said.
She and her husband, Harry Connick Jr., decided to keep the diagnosis quiet. Now, half a decade later, they have opened up about the ordeal and have talked about both the initial treatment and the ongoing battle to keep the cancer from returning.
Jill Goodacre, born in Texas in 1964, is no stranger to being seen on the screen. She has been both an actress, including appearing as an episode of Friends, as well as a lingerie model for Victoria’s Secret. She was one of the first and helped the company grow into the world-known corporation it is now.
In 1994 she married Harry Connick Jr., who was born in Louisiana in 1967. He is both a prolific singer and an actor, and currently is the host of a talk show called Harry. He is no shock jock, as the show often focuses on children and teenagers in a positive manner.
The two have three children, all daughters; Georgia, Sarah Kate, and Charlotte, who were born in 1996, 1997, and 2002.
Stealthy breast cancer and dense breasts
It was during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Jill Goodacre visited her medical provider for a routine mammogram. It came back clear. Had she walked out then, the breast cancer would have remained undetected, with potentially disastrous results.
Thankfully, the mammogram was only one half of the breast cancer screening. According to Goodacre, they said, “okay, looks good. Since you have dense breasts, just go across the hall for your sonogram.”
The sonogram detected a suspicious spot. They performed a biopsy and discovered a stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I’ll never forget it. It was one of the hardest days of my life,” Goodacre said. “Exactly five years ago this month I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Exactly five years ago and it was just so ironic, it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month.”
The density of her breasts almost covered up the cancer. Breast denseness refers to how much non-fatty tissue is in the breasts, such as glands, ducts, and other fibrous tissues. On a mammogram, nearly everything that is not fatty tissue shows up white.
This includes both tumors and glands. This can cause the tumor to hide in the non-fatty tissue. Thankfully the sonogram can pierce through what the mammogram could not, and caught the cancer in its early stages.
If you have dense breasts, you cannot feel it with a manual examination. It has to be discovered through a mammogram. About half of women have dense breasts, which itself is not a negative.
After the diagnosis
At the time of the examination, Harry Connick Jr. was far from his wife. He was working in New Orleans, and still remembers the phone call. “I remember what you said to me. I was working down there and I was waiting for the call and you were crying and you said, ‘I have it,’ and I lost it. It was the worst feeling of helplessness I’ve ever had,” said Connick.
Jill Goodacre was not the only important woman in Harry Connick Jr.’s life to have had cancer. He lost his mother to ovarian cancer when he was thirteen years old. The fear of losing his wife was very real to him.
“I was scared I was going to lose her, absolutely,” he told People magazine. “I wasn't going to let her see that, but I was. I know from losing my mom that the worst can happen. She's my best friend, and I really don't know what I would do without her.”
Goodacre was able to tell her daughters about the diagnosis in person, but it was one of the most difficult parts of the initial diagnosis. “That was the worst of all. Having the girls sit on my bed and telling them, they were so in shock, it was just devastating,” Goodacre said.
Treatment and remission
Because the cancer was caught early, Jill Goodacre did not have to undergo chemotherapy. She went under the knife and the surgeons performed a lumpectomy. Unfortunately, according to Goodacre, it “didn’t come back with clean margins.”
She had to have a second lumpectomy the following the day.
After the second surgery, she underwent radiation therapy, which “absolutely wiped me out.” The radiation and surgeries seemed to have removed the cancer but that did not mean treatment was over. For the past five years Goodacre has been taking Tamoxifen.
Tamoxifen is an estrogen modulator available as a pill. It helps to prevent the development of hormone receptor-positive breast cancers, so if the surgery and radiation did not remove all of the cancer cells, the medication should prevent them from reforming a dangerous tumor.
The medication has had some side effects, including weight gain. As a former lingerie model and acress, the weight gain has “taken a lot out of my self-confidence,” according to Goodacre.
Battling the radiation then medication, with the possibility of the cancer returning, can hang over people’s heads. But the husband and wife have remained strong.
In response to her body image, Harry has said, “she will always be the most beautiful woman in the world.”
As for the ordeal as a whole, he told her, “you were probably stronger than I was, I think. I think you set the tone for how we were going to deal with it.”
Even the children were supportive. Goodacre recalls, “They cling more to me more now and it’s just really sweet. They’ve been so supportive, just amazing.”
Jill Goodacre shared their reasons for not coming public with the diagnosis sooner. “It wasn't like we were superstitious, like if we said something about being in the clear, we'd somehow jinx it. But we wanted to be well on the other side of things before we told everybody,” Goodacre said. “The doctors all say that after the five-year mark, things look optimistic, so we're starting to feel pretty good.”
She will likely continue to take the medication. But the cancer is in remission and the Connicks are feeling positive about the future.
The importance of early detection
Two surgeries, radiation, and medication are no walk in the park. Still, early detection potentially saved Jill Goodacre’s life.
There has been some controversy about how much screening a woman should have to endure. A one-size-fits-all screening regime is not the best choice for most women.
It is a good idea to talk with your doctor about your family’s medical history and take in other factors such as lifestyle and even aspects such as whether or not you have dense breasts, to see if mammograms are sufficient or other detection methods are preferred.
Some of the well-known examination methods are falling out of favor. Manual self-examination has not been found to help find breast cancer early or decrease breast cancer mortality, and the false positives can have harmful effects from the stress of finding a lump that turns out to be benign, and the unnecessary biopsies that are performed. It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Jill Goodacre, former actress, lingerie model, and husband of Harry Connick Jr, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Now, five years later, she is in remission and has offered her experiences to the public. She underwent two surgeries, radiation therapy, and has taken medication for five years, but remains strong.
Her relationship with her husband and children has only been strengthened by the turmoil. As Harry said to his wife, “I am so in awe of your bravery.”