Jill Eikenberry's Breast Cancer: How She Bravely Fought The Disease Two Times And What Helped Her Pull Through

Date August 16, 2018 16:18

Most of us remember Jill Eikenberry as lawyer Ann Kelsey from the hit NBC series L.A. Law. The actress is also known for her lasting marriage to her colleague Michael Tucker, who also played in L.A Law. They have been married for 45 years – that’s pretty remarkable for Hollywood!


Eikenberry is a successful actress and loving wife, but she has played another important role for more than three decades: she survived breast cancer and became a vocal activist to spread awareness about the disease.


READ ALSO: Shirley Temple's Breast Cancer Battle: How She Overcame The Disease And Became A Pioneering Advocate

Jill Eikenberry's brave fight with the disease

Back in 1986, when they had just started filming L.A. Law, Eikenberry found a lump in her breast. The actress went in to check it and received the harrowing news: the lump was cancerous.

Eikenberry wasn’t very hopeful at first. She told The OR Connection:

I didn’t know anybody who’d survived breast cancer. And I thought I was going to die for sure.

One chance encounter changed her whole perspective. At a screening of The Manhattan Project, Eikenberry confided in her co-star Cynthia Nixon about the diagnosis. Nixon introduced Eikenberry to her mom, Ann, who was a breast cancer survivor. The woman even showed Eikenberry her post-surgery scar, saying:

You see this little scar on my right breast? That’s all I have to remind me of my breast cancer 11 years ago.

These words gave her hope. Eikenberry underwent a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, and the cancer was gone.


The actress realized she had the power to change the conversation about breast cancer, which wasn’t discussed as openly in late 80’s as it is now. In 1988, she became a participant and an interviewer in NBC’s Destined to Live: 100 Roads to Recovery. Eikenberry told The Los Angeles Times:

It was very important for me to do this documentary. On a personal level I have a tendency, because I’m optimistic, to put it away and pretend it didn’t happen. But being able to face one’s own mortality does give one a new lease on life.


READ ALSO: Female Celebrities Who Battled And Survived Breast Cancer

Unfortunately, breast cancer has a high rate of recurrence. In 2009, Eikenberry was told her cancer came back. That time, it was a completely different experience for her. She told The OR Connection:

My mammogram discovered another tiny tumor in exactly the same spot as my old one. But this time was so different. There’s a lot more people vocal about their breast cancer now. My radiologist said to me on the phone when she gave me the news, ‘you have nothing to worry about.’ They would have never said that to me in 1986.

I had so much communication with everybody all along the way this time and last time I felt completely in the dark. This time I didn’t have to have chemo or radiation; I was able to have a lumpectomy again in the same spot. But I felt like it was my choice every step of the way, and that I was being part of the experience instead of the victim of the experience.


The actress acknowledges a significant shift in attitude towards breast cancer in recent years. In an interview with Parade, she said:

I think it’s much less lonely for women who get diagnosed now, and much less terrifying because there are so many women that have survived and have gone public and talked about it. I think a lot of women really know that it’s not necessarily a death sentence. I think a lot more women are being vigilant about it, checking themselves, and getting mammograms. It’s out of the closet in a lot of ways, and I think that makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, the cure for breast cancer is not with us, so we’re not there yet, but there’s a lot less mystery, darkness, and stigma about the disease, and that’s wonderful.

Eikenberry is one of the women who made these changes happen, and we can't thank her enough for that!

READ ALSO: By Personal Example: Betty Ford Showed The Relevance Of Breast Cancer Problem

Breast Cancer