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Celebrating Survival – QNS.com

Celebrating Survival

Ask Ann Jillian her age at her last birthday and she might tell you she just turned 21.That’s how old she is in survivor years. On April 12, 1985, the talented and versatile performer underwent breast cancer surgery and has since been brimming with gratefulness for another chance at life.
“I consider it my second birthday,” says the actress with her infectious optimism as she describes the events surrounding her double mastectomy.
A former child star with several impressive roles to her credit, Jillian was accomplished in all areas of show business from the big screen to the small screen, concert halls and cabarets to the Broadway stage. She was only four days into production on “Alice in Wonderland” when she got her diagnosis. She pleaded with the movie’s producer, Irwin Allen, to wait for her to recover.
“I really need to feel that I have something to come back to,” she recalls telling him, but the sympathetic producer reminded her that the schedules of more than 40 people would be affected. As it turned out, everyone was willing to cooperate, but 11 days were all they could spare. “This absolutely helped me,” says Jillian who adds she owes so much to Allen for the opportunity.
“Cancer is something you cannot control if it comes into your life,” she says. “You can do your best to live a good life, have a healthy lifestyle and take preventative measures, but cancer is ultimately out of your control.
“It was nice to see that I was given back some control in my life. That was the beginning of it and it set a precedent for me in terms of work.”
Jillian’s renewed confidence put her back on the set but she couldn’t have predicted the role that would follow. While working with NBC, Brandon Tartikoff, the network’s president at the time, informed her that there was a script going around about an actress who gets breast cancer and the details bore a striking similarity to her story. “People are going to think it’s you,” Tartikoff told Jillian, suggesting she consider the project.
“It was not in my head to do a movie,” says the actress, but a very persuasive Tartikoff told her that she could do in one night what he couldn’t do in his whole life in his profession.
“You can touch so many people,” he told her. “Think of it on a humanitarian level. You could be helping millions,” the TV executive assured her.
“When he put it that way, I knew we had to do it,” says Jillian, noting that she and her husband, Andy Murcia, an ex-detective who now manages her professional career, have a list of names of people who have written over the years to say they were prompted to take action because of the movie.
“The Ann Jillian Story,” recounting the actress’ victory over breast cancer, was the #1 film of the TV season and earned the star a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. But, more important, it delivered her inspiring message about the hopeful side of breast cancer. And it is Jillian’s hope and faith that continue to carry her all these years later.
Anchored by her husband when she got the news, Jillian decided “I was going to take it on with prayer,” and do whatever it took to get well. “I felt I would leave it to God, but I’m going to show Him how much I love this gift of life He’s given me and I’m going to fight so hard to show it.
“To me, it’s all about prayer. I obviously had my family, but all of us leaned on my faith. I saw my mother go through 40-plus years as a [breast cancer] survivor and she always told me that God answers all your prayers—even if He says no,” she continued.
“I wasn’t angry. Who do you get angry at?, asks Jillian. “I didn’t say, Why me? I said, Why not me?
“This is something I feel is important about survival. Surviving and thriving is accepting, adapting and moving on,” she says. “To me, it’s early detection coupled with swift medical action and then living your reward. Nobody is immortal,” she adds.
“Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m very basic,” says the actress. “While I love my career and loved having breasts, the first thing on my mind was life,” she remembers.
Armed with an overwhelmingly positive attitude and joyful determination, Jillian continued to defy the odds, actively moving forward with her life and her career, and basking in every precious moment.
Still, nothing could match the fulfillment of becoming a parent. Seven years after her surgery, at 42 years of age, Jillian gave birth for the first time. “I was the happiest pregnant lady,” confides the performer. “Having a child was a stamp of approval for me; perhaps I did something right in my life,” she says.
“For my husband and me, our son is the center of our life. That’s why I started to pull back from show business once he was heavy into his school years,” she explains. “It’s truly wonderful to have a career but when you think about it, your career is a job. Raising another life, putting a wonderful, good, productive human being out in the world is far more rewarding.”
Lately, she prefers motivational speaking to performing because the schedule fits in better with motherhood, but it was hardly a conscious decision, says Jillian. First contacted in 1985 to give a lecture, the actress declined saying she’s no good without a script, but the persistent women’s group was unrelenting and Jillian eventually succumbed. A half hour into the talk, Jillian abandoned her notes. “I wasn’t trying to be an expert at anything,” she says. “I was simply relaying something only I could be an expert on—my own journey.”
Since then, Jillian has traveled the country tugging at the sleeves of women in all walks of life, reminding them of the importance of early detection. But, above all, Jillian says her message is “don’t forget yourself, always love yourself,” another lesson she learned from her mother.
Despite Jillian’s genetic predisposition to breast cancer, the actress continues to tell women that it is a “sneaky” disease. “If it’s in your family history, it doesn’t immediately doom you. If you don’t have it in your family, it doesn’t mean you’re exempt,” she explains. “The best that you can do for yourself to try to keep it at bay is to have a healthy lifestyle.”
All of the advice she doles out is simple, but it packs a wallop because it comes from the heart of someone who’s been there: “If you have a doctor you trust, which I assume you do, don’t let any grass grow under your feet. Do feel comfortable with a second opinion, and a third if you need it. Then, do what you have to do to get well,” she tells the women she meets. “Keep the lines of communication open with your doctor. If he shows he doesn’t have time to listen, perhaps you need a new doctor,” suggests Jillian.
“I have found that most doctors welcome a person who brings them information. Knowledge is your edge. Most of all, convey exactly what you’re feeling inside. It becomes a relationship unlike any other. My doctors and their team were of great support to me and led the way,” she says.
But, she admits, there’s no substitute for loved ones. “Your whole family wants to rally around you so let them. Give them the chance to digest everything, then involve them,” says Jillian. “Andy was my knight in shining armor and has been over the years.”
Jillian’s breast cancer did not change her life, according to the actress. “It actually validated everything I believed in,” she says. “When you’re growing up, you learn to have faith and you keep it in the back of your mind. Whatever your faith is, don’t let it collect dust. To me, that’s what’s most important.”

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