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breast cancer

Pop Culture

Olivia Munn’s aggressive breast cancer and double mastectomy is a wakeup call to all women

She’d had a clean mammogram and tested negative for cancer genes just months before she was diagnosed.

Nicole Alexander/Wikimedia Commons

Olivia Munn at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards

Actor Olivia Munn has announced that she's been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and has undergone a double mastectomy, and her story is one all women need to read.

The 43-year-old, who has a 2-year-old son with comedian John Mulaney, shared her experience with photos, video and a written statement shared on Instagram.

"I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she wrote in the post caption. "I hope by sharing this it will help others find comfort, inspiration and support on their own journey."

Munn shared that she had taken a genetic test in February of 2023 in an effort to be proactive about her health and was relieved to find that she tested negative for all 90 cancer genes the test checked for, including the BRCA breast cancer gene. In the few months prior, she'd had a clear mammogram, so there wasn't any indication that anything was wrong.

"Two months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she wrote.

She explained that her OB-GYN had decided to calculate her Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Score, which takes into account age, lifestyle, family history, how old you were when you had your first child, and other factors that can impact your likelihood of having breast cancer.

When Munn's score came back with a 37% chance of having cancer, she was sent to get an MRI, which led to a biopsy, which found Luminal B cancer in both breasts.

"Luminal B is an aggressive, fast-moving cancer," Munn wrote. "30 days after that biopsy I had a double mastectomy. I went from feeling completely fine one day, to waking up in a hospital bed after a 10-hour surgery the next."

Munn said she's lucky because they caught it in time for her to have options. "I want the same for any woman who might have to face this one day. Ask your doctor to calculate your Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Score." Her doctor says if the score is higher than 20%, you should have an annual mammogram and MRI starting at age 30.

According to CNN, there are two models commonly used as breast cancer risk assessment tools: the Gail Model and the Tyrer-Cuzick Risk Assessment Calculator. Both have online versions that allow you to calculate your score for free, (though you should always consult your doctor with any concerns you might have). Munn wrote that she wouldn't have found her cancer for another year at her next mammogram if it weren't for her doctor calculating her risk score.

She also shared more of what followed her unexpected diagnosis:

"In the past ten months I have had four surgeries, so many days spent in bed I can't even count and have learned more about cancer, cancer treatment and hormones than I ever could have imagined. Surprisingly, I've only cried twice. I guess I haven't felt like there was time to cry. My focus narrowed and I tabled any emotions that I felt would interfere with my ability to stay clearheaded.

I've tended to let people see me when I have energy, when I can get dressed and get out of the house, when I can take my baby boy to the park. I've kept the diagnosis and the worry and the recovery and the pain medicine and the paper gowns private. I needed to catch my breath and get through some of the hardest parts before sharing."

Finally, she thanked all of her loved ones who have loved her through her breast cancer journey, including John Mulaney, who researched all of her medical procedures and made sure their son's framed photo was the first thing she saw when she woke up. She also thanked the medical team who has been caring for her, from her OB-GYN to her oncologist to the nurses and hospital support staff.

Munn sharing her story could help other women who may not know their risk or who may be complacent about breast cancer screenings to take a proactive approach.

To learn more about breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society or the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Cigna 2017

The first thing you notice when you see twin sisters Carrie and Erica together are their smiles.

They’re big and welcoming, crinkling the corners of their eyes in exactly the same way.

Yet there's one big difference between Carrie and Erica. Carrie has the BRCA gene mutation. Erica doesn’t.

If you don’t know — don't feel bad because lots of people don't — a mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is one of the most common indicators that a person will get breast or ovarian cancer in their lifetime.

Watch Carrie and Erica's inspiring story below:

Her twin sister wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the preventive steps she took.

Posted by Upworthy on Thursday, June 29, 2017

"We have had a substantial family history of breast and ovarian cancers," Carrie says.  And when the sisters found out that their mom had the BRCA gene, they both decided to get tested for it too.

"I was positive and she was negative," says Carrie.

For Erica, relief at her diagnosis was short-lived. "I was also sad and nervous and upset that the two women closest to me, my mom and my sister, both had it."

Rather than worry, Carrie immediately went to work.

Together with her care providers, she arranged for mammograms and MRIs to test for breast cancer every six months, along with blood tests for ovarian cancer.

For a while, all the tests came back fine. Then, one routine MRI revealed some abnormal cells. Carrie had a biopsy to be sure, but the results were conclusive: cancer cells.

Like hundreds of thousands of other women, Carrie began cancer treatment — and she did it with her sister at her side.

"I started chemotherapy," she says. "Lost my hair, lost my appetite, lost a good sense of myself. But, you can come out the other side."

Erica and Carrie. Image via Cigna.

"Without preventive care, I probably would not be here today," she says, her voice breaking. "That's the truth."

Along with knowing her genetics, early detection helped save Carrie’s life. Now she’s not taking anything for granted.

"This could happen to anybody, no matter what age you are," she says. "I would highly suggest people go in to have regular doctor visits and to know your numbers so that you can take control of your health and your life."

Keeping an eye on your health numbers — blood pressure, blood sugar, BMI and cholesterol — can help you spot potential health problems early.

Erica agrees. "Going to the doctor is not the most comfortable thing and mammograms are not that comfortable, but I think Carrie has shown people what’s good about going to the doctor and finding out early."

As Carrie thinks about her future, she’s excited about what it holds. "I'm looking forward to having a family one day, traveling the world, and being more of a participant in this crazy, awesome life."


Planned Parenthood's brilliant ad features an unexpected supporter: Donald Trump.

Millions of women rely on Planned Parenthood for lifesaving care.

In 2013, Jaime Benner discovered a lump in her right breast. She credits Planned Parenthood with saving her life.

Her primary care provider couldn't get her in for a screening for three weeks. Not only was Planned Parenthood able to get her in for an appointment that day, but they stood with her through the process of getting a referral for an emergency mammogram and beyond.

[rebelmouse-image 19473195 dam="1" original_size="750x390" caption="Image via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube." expand=1]Image via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube.

"The radiologist report came back inconclusive," she says. "But Planned Parenthood refused to accept that answer and sent me for further testing."

Two and a half weeks later, she underwent a complete radical mastectomy. "By the time I had my mastectomy, which was only a few weeks later, my cancer was spreading into my lymphatic system," she adds. "A day could have been the difference between the stage 3b cancer I had and stage 4."

Benner is the face of a new campaign to help save the organization's federal funding in a video that features an unexpected voice of support: Donald Trump.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump occasionally toed the Republican Party line in opposition to Planned Parenthood while other times he spoke frankly, sharing a important truths about just how vital the organization's services are to millions of people.

In a new 30-second ad for Planned Parenthood, Benner tells her own story, accompanied by clips of Trump, speaking in his own words about why Planned Parenthood matters. The video includes the notable moment from a Republican primary debate when he said, "Millions and millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood."

[rebelmouse-image 19473196 dam="1" original_size="450x252" caption="Fact: 2.5 million people will visit one of Planned Parenthood's 650 locations this year. GIF via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube." expand=1]Fact: 2.5 million people will visit one of Planned Parenthood's 650 locations this year. GIF via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube.

That wasn’t  the only time Trump defended Planned Parenthood. In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity in August 2015, Trump debunked the idea that the group is first and foremost an abortion provider — a claim that serves as the source of much of the controversy surrounding the organization — correctly noting that abortion is "actually a fairly small part of what they do."

If Planned Parenthood weren't around, people like Benner couldn’t just go somewhere else. There aren’t other local health clinics that can cover that patient load.

An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that defunding Planned Parenthood would have a disastrous effect on women’s health care options, especially those who rely on Medicaid.

[rebelmouse-image 19473197 dam="1" original_size="450x253" caption="GIF via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube." expand=1]GIF via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube.

"Not only did Planned Parenthood get me the testing I needed to find out I had cancer, they got everything together to get me Medicaid so I would have coverage," Benner says. "I'm not sure if you've ever looked into the costs associated with cancer, but one shot I used after chemo was $7,000 a syringe each time. I'm sure most average people couldn't afford to purchase one of those every two weeks."

[rebelmouse-image 19473198 dam="1" original_size="750x377" caption="Benner underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Image via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube." expand=1]Benner underwent aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Image via Planned Parenthood Action/YouTube.

Benner isn't alone. It's estimated that 1 in 5 women in the U.S. has visited a Planned Parenthood health center. While Republican politicians have the organization in their crosshairs, a majority of Americans (including a majority of Republicans, as a group) oppose cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood, with a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll finding that 75% of the public opposes cutting the group's funding.

Planned Parenthood is a lifeline for people of all political ideologies, and Donald Trump — clearly — knows it. The question remains, however, whether he and others will cut it off anyway.

"We have to help women," Trump said during the 2015 interview with Hannity. "A lot of women are helped [by Planned Parenthood]."

Now stuck between his pledge to "help women" and his promise to defund Planned Parenthood, Trump needs to choose one or the other. Benner, and millions of women like her, hope he’ll stand on the side of survivors.

GIF from Fox News/YouTube.

Using Trump's own words to make a point about why it's necessary to save Planned Parenthood is a pretty genius — and hopefully effective — move.

Watch Brenner and Trump make the case for protecting Planned Parenthood in 30 seconds below.

​Mieko Rye has been a model for 20 years.

And a successful one, at that. Gracing magazine covers and ads for major brands, Rye has had what many models strive for: a consistent, accomplished career in the business. 

Photo by Marc vonBorstel. Used with permission.

Like all models, Rye has made a career that is partially dependent on mainstream approval of her appearance. She has spent the past 20 years acutely aware of what others think of her body, her skin, her hair — all of it. 

Photo by Marc vonBorstel. Used with permission.

Now Rye is battling stage 3 breast cancer.

Living with cancer is hard and, as we all know, takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll. But the impacts of the disease on one's appearance can also be devastating for any woman, let alone a woman who has maintained financial security and independence based on her beauty. But Rye isn't feeling sorry for herself. Not one bit. 

​The striking beauty did a photo shoot of herself now, with cancer, and boldly posted it on Facebook side by side with one of her older photos.​

The images were breathtaking. 

Underneath, she shared her honest, vulnerable reflections on living with cancer, her identity and yes, beauty. Here is what she wrote: 

"I had this idea to do a photo shoot while battling cancer. When I first began my career as a model 20 years ago I did not embody the American concept of beauty. I was told I was too dark, too light, too curvy, or that my hair was too dry, too curly, or too big. No make up artist could match my skin tone because they never carried around proper foundation for women of color.

Then the curvy Brazilian girls took over the fashion industry, god bless them, and my career took off. I had a niche. Being "exotic" was cool... Being "ambiguous" was cool... Being "ethnic" was cool... Being "brown" was cool.

Now many of the celebrated parts of a woman that our culture defines as beauty I no longer have ... eyebrows, hair, eyelashes, and soon my breasts...

Chemotherapy wreaks havoc on your body slowly. My sum of parts once interconnected and harmonious are now dissembled and out of tune.

It's truly humbling to go from traveling and working internationally to being confined to my bed. Everyday is a challenge when simple pleasures such as eating, going for a walk, or carrying my child in my arms escape me. I was on the sidelines as I could no longer participate in the daily goings on of life.

With Cancer comes destruction. However, it has also provided me with the opportunity to rebuild from the inside out. I have shed what is no longer necessary and quite honestly, impeded my growth.

Being alive is essentially a very lonely proposition and I'm okay with this... Because I absolutely love and enjoy the woman I've become. So when I say I am alone, I mean free of a man, career, role, or title I may have clung to in the past to define myself. My happiness does not depend on the love, reassurance, loyalty, or approval of another.

I am simply Mieko. I have nothing to hide. I have stage 3 breast cancer and I have never felt more beautiful in my entire life."

​Her post has already received hundreds of comments and shares from women inspired by her words and bravery.

And all for being, as she said "simply Mieko."

When I asked Rye what made her decide to share her photos, she revealed even more about her journey.

"When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I was very afraid.  I am a single mom and I quickly began assessing my chances of survival and how I would financially support me and my son since I was a model by profession.

I realized that fear was not going to propel me through this difficult situation.  If I wanted to fight cancer, I was going to need to let go.  I was no longer going to be a model. I was no longer going to recognize myself as I once was.  I could not have control over cancer and what it was doing to my body, but I could control how I chose to react to it.

I decided to find my strength and set an example for my seven-year-old boy.  Strength fights cancer, not fear.  I began to ask myself, what are the top ten best things about having cancer?  The answers ranged from no longer having to shave my legs to making an effort to emotionally connect with the key people in my life.  This led me to a very positive place where I have chosen to remain.  

Letting go is the beauty of this battle.  I no longer care about what I used to look like.  What I care about is the woman I am becoming.  I felt I needed to share this with others affected by cancer.  I have been modeling for so long that doing a photo shoot was the natural next step.  I wanted to give people a picture of what cancer looks like and give them the power to embrace it.  It can be beautiful!"

Photo by Marc vonBorstel. Used with permission.

Her post isn't just an example to her young son and an inspiration to those fighting cancer. It's also a reminder to all women that despite the always evolving beauty ideals of the world, despite the ever evolving realities of our own physical appearance — which can change with illness or even just time — vulnerability, authenticity, and confidence never go out of style.