Best known for playing Miranda Hobbes on the HBO hit series Sex and the City, Cynthia Nixon is one of the most accomplished actors on television. Her action-packed career has earned her two Primetime Emmys, a Tony Award, a Grammy Award, and more.
But fans may be surprised to learn that just two years after Sex and the City wrapped, Nixon quietly battled breast cancer behind the scenes, while simultaneously starring in an 0ff-Broadway play. Now an advocate for women’s health and an ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, she says the lessons she’s gleaned from her health scare have been invaluable to her life and career. Read on to find out what she’s learned from the experience, and why she wasted no time on fear.
RELATED: The “Crazy” Way Mark Ruffalo Discovered He Had a Brain Tumor.
Nixon first learned she had breast cancer during a routine mammogram when she was 40 years old. Because her mother had previously been diagnosed with the same disease, indicating a strong family history, the actor underwent annual mammograms since turning 35.
Nixon recalls that the mass in her breast was so subtle as to be nearly undetectable. After her diagnosis, she remembers her doctor saying, “You know, I wouldn’t have thought anything of this. It is so small, except it wasn’t there on any of your previous mammograms.”
This emphasized the importance of early screening for the Gilded Age star. “I think that speaks volumes of how important it is to get mammograms, how important it is to get them regularly and how important it is to get them young. If I had started when I was 40, maybe they wouldn’t have caught it,” she told Cure Today in 2011.
RELATED: The “Controversial” Way Ben Stiller Learned He Had Cancer.
Cancer can come as quite a shock—especially when it’s diagnosed at a young age—and Nixon admitted in a 2008 interview with ABC News that she was briefly “scared” when she first received the news. Yet the actor quickly let go of that fear and made peace with her diagnosis. “I was very cognizant of if it’s going to happen, this is the best way for it to happen, that it’s found so early and we can just get right on it,” she told the news outlet.
“I’ve learned that if you catch breast cancer early, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you’ll be cured. So my attitude, which very much mirrored my mother’s, was [that] this wasn’t a big deal,” the Amadeus actor added while speaking with U.S. Magazine (via Marie Claire).
She now emphasizes this message in her role as an advocate, urging women to overcome their fears for the sake of their health. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the actor told ABC News. “So, the only thing to really be afraid of is if you don’t go get your mammograms, because there’s some part of you that doesn’t want to know, and that’s the thing that’s going to trip you up. That’s the thing that could have a really bad endgame,” she said.
Nixon was busy starring in an off-Broadway play, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She opted for an immediate lumpectomy to remove the mass, and returned to work the following week.
“I didn’t want people to know I had the operation because I was in the play, and I thought it would be very distracting for audience members,” the star told Cure Today. “The doctors did my procedure on a Sunday so I wouldn’t have to miss any performances,” she said. Nixon followed up her procedure with six and a half weeks of radiation, but was able to forego chemotherapy, she says.
For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Nixon opened up about her diagnosis after being in remission for some time. She says that dealing with her health privately gave her the chance to process what it meant to her, without the intrusion of the paparazzi’s presence.
“I got cancer the year I turned 40,” she told Cure Today. “It just felt like I had arrived at a real peak in my life—that I could look forward and I could look back,” she recalled. From that peak, Nixon surveyed her life and found herself asking big questions. “‘Are you living your life the way you want it to be? What are the things you’ve always wanted to do or meant to do? You’re still here, and you’re 40. Why aren’t you doing them?” the star recalls asking herself. “It sounds small but I started taking singing lessons, things like that, that really made me put my money where my mouth was,” she said.
Her career has since taken her to some unexpected places, including the 2018 gubernatorial race in New York. “You can’t constantly defer—at some point, you have to step up.”
RELATED: Two-Time Cancer Survivor Kathy Bates Warns Others Never to Do This.