One of the original Charlie’s Angels, Jaclyn Smith is an award-winning actress and entrepreneur who played Kelly Garret on the popular TV show for five years, among many other accomplishments. In 1985, Smith introduced a fashion line into K-Mart, becoming one of the first celebrities to develop her own brand. Since then, she has developed brands for furniture, wigs, beauty products and fabrics. Smith recently spoke to our editor about her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.
Transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
healthy women: I understand that you were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 after a routine mammogram, and that even after undergoing core biopsy, ultrasound and needle biopsy, you did not think you had breast cancer breast. Can you talk a bit about that thought process?
Jaclyn Smith: I will say when I went for the mammogram and came back another day for the results, and the doctor said to me, “Are you here alone?” And I said, “Oh, yeah.” Because I always felt good, I never thought about breast cancer. I just thought, Well, that’s a question they ask everyone.
The doctor said, “Well, I have good news and bad news,” and I said, “Oh.” He asked, “What do you want first?” I said, “Just tell me.”
He said, “Well, you’ve got breast cancer, but it’s small, and we got it early.” And I think the first thing I said was, “Will I be there for my kids?” And he said, “Yes, you will. You’ll be here. You’re more likely to be hit by a car.” So I thought, Oh, okay. Are they telling me the truth? So I just said, “Well, you know what, I want a mastectomy. I just want it removed.” My daughter was supposed to go to New York to play for Alvin Ailey. She had the intensive summer.
“Yeah, let me meet the surgeon. I wanted to meet a surgeon there, and he said, “Well, go home and think about it.” And I got in the car, I called my husband and I said, “You know, I have breast cancer.” He said, “What? You must be wrong.” I said no.” And I said, “I’m going to have a mastectomy.” He said, “Now wait a minute, no, you’re not. We will do research. A lumpectomy with radiation therapy is effective in some situations. ‘Then I hang up, I can’t talk to her, I’m in traffic, I hang up and call my mom. ‘Mom, I have breast cancer.’” Honey, no, no.” I said, “Yes, mom.” “Are you sure?” Nobody believed me.
I don’t think they could deal with it or think, How could this happen? What I learned from this experience, when they call you back for further tests, even if they say “We don’t think it’s cancer”, take someone with you because the word cancer makes you to forget everything. You don’t hear what they say. You are not thinking correctly. You don’t collect your facts. I would say: Take your friend, take someone with you. And the funny thing is that now, every time I have a mammogram, my husband accompanies me. It’s a bit childish, but I like it.
healthy women: I don’t think it’s baby, I think it’s adorable. You have spoken publicly many times about how your friends formed a support network and helped you through your breast cancer experience. Did you ask for help and help or were you hesitant to do so?
Jacyln Smith: Oh my god the power of girlfriends, and they tied it to nothing but support and taking me to lunch and taking me to radiation, I never went one time. They called themselves the Ya-Ya. Do you remember the book “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”? They did a book for me and it was about Ya-Ya. It really saved me.
1977 Charlie’s Angels (David Doyle, Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Cheryl Ladd and Jaclyn Smith)
healthy women: As women, we are always the caregivers, and you are a mother. Did you ask your friends for help or did they just offer it? Have you ever felt uncomfortable? Was it difficult for you to be yourself in this helping position?
Jaclyn Smith: You know what, I didn’t ask. They were there, they were there 100%, and we had a great time. We had these lunches and car rides, and it was so authentic, it was authentic. They weren’t, “Well, let me do a good deed here,” They were one for all and all for one. I will never forget him. Now a [of my friends] had breast cancer before, and she knew a lot about it, and when I had to do all these scans and stuff, she was right by my side. I’m kind of a little nervous to say this because some women don’t have anyone, and so what I’ve learned is that there’s always an organization or support group there down where you can meet people. You can join a support group, and you can have a friend and someone you can relate to, so I think it’s important for women to realize that help is there.
healthy women: How can we best support someone with breast cancer?
Jaclyn Smith: Well, I think you’re saying, hey, if they’re doing chemo, you offer to drive them, let’s go to lunch, or you sit there and you read a book with them and you read to them, or there’s so many ways – just talking, just communicating. I didn’t ask for it. They go, Hey, we’re going, and then we’re gonna go here, we’re gonna go there, and I don’t want you driving. I did this for Farrah [Fawcett] to some extent later, when he was diagnosed [anal] cancer. You take them a Pinkberry, you take a piece of German chocolate cake that they really like. There are the little things, just acts of kindness that get you through.
healthy women: I read that you are very, very careful about your diet now.
Jaclyn Smith: Well, I’m and then I’m married to a heart surgeon who encourages it and encourages working out, and he thinks it’s as much for your body as it is for your brain. I think I’m pretty good at eating well and exercising.
healthy women: You alluded to it at first, but what was the treatment you ended up having for breast cancer?
Jaclyn Smith: I had undergone a lumpectomy with radiotherapy.
healthy women: If you could look back 20 years on your diagnosis, what would you say to yourself? If you could tell yourself something at the time?
Jaclyn Smith: Oh, well, don’t think that’s a death sentence because I really freaked out. I had these young kids and they’re everything and I thought, Oh, am I going to be here? And I didn’t want to tell anyone. And then one of the rag sheets got it and then it was out in the open and then I realized we were getting our support from the people and that was OK. And that’s what I was like, don’t lock yourself in a room.
I was lucky because one of my friends [who had breast cancer] educated me, and I had a husband who educated me because I was [initially] go for a mastectomy. So I think I would just tell myself not to panic in the moment and learn to take risks. I always tell my kids, go for it. This is where the fruits are. Find out. Surround yourself with positive and knowledgeable people.
healthy women:And you mentioned that you were also part of Farrah Fawcett’s support network. Did you pass that on to him with his diagnosis as well?
Jaclyn Smith: Yeah. And I must say that Farrah was very brave and never gave up.
healthy women: Yes, I’ve seen the documentary she made about her cancer journey twice.
Jaclyn Smith: Yeah. She did well and I take my hat off to her. She was kind of a shining star at the end of her life, in my book. She paved the way for raising awareness about the HPV vaccine, which many people didn’t really think about, but is very much needed for young boys and girls.
healthy women: We work a lot around HPV and the vaccine at HealthyWomen.
Jaclyn Smith: Its good. It’s perfect.
Smith with his son, Gaston; granddaughter, Bea; daughter, Spencer Margaret; and her husband, Dr. Brad Allen
healthy women: Everyone will want to know how your health is now. How are you?
Jaclyn Smith: Well, I feel good. Work as hard as ever. In fact, I’m busier. And I have to say, even during the write-offs, I did a series called “The District” with Craig T. Nelson, and I started a line of furniture. And I did the second film “Charlie’s Angels”. So what it did was say, “Hey, I’m not going to let the grass grow under my feet. I had the chance. I’m going to work.” And I think there’s been a resurgence of me getting back there and not giving up and working and working. And I’m still working. So, it’s all right. It’s really good.
healthy women: Do you have any new projects you can tell us about?
Jaclyn Smith: I have a new clothing line that I’m launching in the fall at Nordstrom Rack. I was at Kmart for 36 years, and now I have a whole new line. And I have a wig line. I took that to not really think about women on chemo and it was more of a fashion accessory. But we do a day at City of Hope, Jose Eber and I and we change the lives of women. And one day he puts on a wig, cuts it, and they say, “I’ve always wanted to be blonde.” And all of a sudden, they’re blonde. And you give them back their life and their femininity and their beauty. And so I have this. I have a fabric line with Trend and I have a skincare line developed by my husband.
So I’m busy. But I think the most important thing to tell you about being diagnosed is that sometimes you back off. I did not do it. I went out, I worked. Maybe God was looking after me and saying, “Hey, we’re offering you ‘The District.’ You make an appearance in the movie “Charlie’s Angels” and launch a line of furniture. Come on, go for it. And boy, did I – and it’s been busy ever since.