Jessica St. Clair is getting candid about her battle with breast cancer in an effort to share some support and helpful advice with other women facing their own daunting cancer struggles.
The creator and star of Playing House penned a funny, powerful essay posted by Stand Up to Cancer on Monday, where she detailed her experiences with undergoing a mastectomy and 16 rounds of chemotherapy, and how she came out on the other side stronger and happier than she ever imagined possible.
"On September 15, 2015, I was diagnosed with stage 2b estrogen positive breast cancer. I was 38 years old, with no family history (that I knew of at the time)," she wrote. "I was feeding my daughter Cheerios the morning I found it. I used to joke that since breastfeeding my boobs looked like an old athletic sock with some loose change at the bottom, so when I felt a lump the size of a marble I knew something was terribly wrong."
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St. Clair immediately sought treatment at the Bedford Breast Center in Beverly Hills, where she worked with two specialists, Dr. Leslie Memsic and Dr. Lisa Cassileth, who helped her through the fight, and performed a special procedure called a "one-step reconstruction," that the actress had nothing but praise for.
"In one surgery, the breast tissue is removed and the new implants are put in," she wrote. "It allows [patients] to go to sleep with breasts and wake up with their new breasts intact. It does away with the need for the multiple surgeries, painful tissue expanders or visible scarring that’s involved in a traditional mastectomy. Ten days after my one-step reconstruction, I was on the beach with my daughter."
According to St. Clair, one of the biggest fears she had when dealing with breast cancer, especially the chemotherapy treatments, revolved around her ability to care for her then-2-year-old little girl, Isobel, who was "too young to understand what I was going through."
With the help of her doctors, her husband, playwright Dan O'Brien, and her best friend and co-creator of Playing House, Lennon Parham, she was able to utilize a variety of "cancer hacks" and experimental tactics to avoid suffering from the most common and debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.
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"Every chemo session, they would pack me in ice, as Lennon puts it, like a 'choice piece of holiday meat.' They distracted me from the intense pain of the cold by reading aloud from old Oprah magazines and feeding me Teddy Grahams and Cheez-Its," she shared. "I froze my scalp for eight hours using 'cold caps' to keep my hair from falling out (I only lost 30 percent)."
"They wrapped ice packs on my eyes like a mummy in order to freeze my eyebrows and eyelashes (I didn’t lose a single one). I wore frozen booties and mittens to avoid getting neuropathy in my hands and feet. I took supplements my doctor recommended for the neuropathy and to strengthen my hair," she continued.
Additional measures included undergoing acupuncture, changing her diet with the help of a cancer nutritionist, and walking at least 20 minutes every day.
"Did I still feel like I’d been run over by a Mack Truck? Absolutely," St. Clair recalled. "But all these 'chemo hacks' made it possible for me to fake it enough that my daughter never knew I was sick, so she was never afraid. And for that, I am eternally grateful."
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St. Clair went on to share how her experiences will be reflected in Playing House's upcoming season, when her character, Emma, is diagnosed with breast cancer, and undergoes the same treatments as St. Clair did in real life.
"We were worried about bringing such serious subject matter to a comedy show, but we’ve always written what we’ve lived," she wrote. "Our real story is that with the help of her best friend, and the people who love her, my character is able to get through the treatment and actually emerge somehow happier and more fulfilled than she was before she was diagnosed."
"We hope that by sharing my experience—our experience, Lennon and I—that somebody who is going through this process or helping their loved one through it might feel less alone, and might even have some better information for their cancer care," St. Clair added.
The third season of Playing House debuts June 23 at 11 p.m. ET/PT, 10 p.m. CT on USA.
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