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

Date August 15, 2018

Shirley Temple, the breast cancer pioneer

These days, it’s common for celebrities and other public figures to speak openly about their cancer diagnoses. We have heard dozens of inspiring stories from famous cancer survivors who chose to reveal their struggles in order to help others.

Such openness is a relatively recent trend; back in the 1970s, it was practically unheard of. One of the few celebrities who set out to change that was Shirley Temple Black.


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Most of us remember Temple as that cute, angelic-looking curly girl who made her film debut in the early 1930s and became a Hollywood go-to child actress. As an adult, Temple made a career in politics and became one of the country’s top diplomats. And here’s one of her most important roles: she was a breast cancer survivor and one of the first celebrity women who went public with their diagnoses and sparked the nationwide conversation about the disease.


Shirley Temple's brave revelation

Shirley Temple was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44, in 1972. Back in 1970, it was common for doctors to treat the disease with a radical mastectomy (which involves cutting off chest muscle), often without women’s consent. Temple knew this, and insisted on a simple mastectomy, going against her own doctor’s advice.


READ ALSO: Female Celebrities Who Battled And Survived Breast Cancer

Just a few days after the surgery, Temple called a news conference from her hospital bed in Palo Alto, California. Going public with her diagnosis and treatment, she said to the press:

The only reason I am telling this is to convince other women to watch for any lump or unusual symptom. There is almost certain cure for this cancer if it is caught early enough.

My doctors have assured me that they are 100 percent sure the cancer is removed.


This revelation was a bold move, but it was groundbreaking. Temple received about 50,000 letters from fans who expressed their gratitude and support, The New York Times reported.


Shirley Temple survived breast cancer and lived another 42 years after her diagnosis. She died of COPD in 2014, but her legacy as one of the first breast cancer awareness advocates lives on!

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

Shirley Temple Breast Cancer