Actress Cynthia Nixon, in a moving speech to 580 people at the annual Breast Cancer Foundation Gala on Saturday night at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, described how her mother fought, survived and decades later finally succumbed to cancer with dignity, spirit and control intact.
Ms. Nixon, best known for her role as Miranda Hobbes in the “Sex in the City” TV series and movies and soon to appear as poet Emily Dickinson in “A Quiet Passion,” introduced herself as a “proud breast cancer survivor” and “the daughter of a breast cancer survivor.” Her mother lived for 35 years following her first cancer diagnosis – “a good run,” Ms. Nixon said that even though breast cancer claimed her mother’s life in 2014, she still considered Anne Knoll Nixon a survivor.
While touching on her own experience with breast cancer, she focused much of her speech on her mother’s battle with the disease. Her mother found a lump in 1979, when she was 49 years old and Ms. Nixon was 13.
When the doctor suggested removing her entire breast, her mother argued against it, saying since the cancer affected only part of her, why did she need to lose it all. Her mother found a doctor, Louis Slattery, who saved much of her breast and worked with her through her treatment and recovery.
Ms. Nixon told of a conversation her mother had had with actress Jill Eikenberry of “L.A. Law.” Ms. Eikenberry had been diagnosed with breast cancer and Ms. Nixon’s mother advised her not to have the entire breast removed. Ms. Eikenberry later told Ms. Nixon that that conversation gave her the “dawning realization for the first time that she was not going to die.”
In 2010, her mother was again diagnosed with cancer, this time stage 4. Her doctor advised that since the cancer was slow moving, it was best not to go “full throttle” on treatment, instead recommending watching the disease carefully and having a “sprinkling of chemo.” Because of this, her mother remained relatively well for a year. “She got to see me get married and got to see our beautiful new home. She met our 2-year-old son,” said Ms. Nixon, who attended the gala with her wife Christine Marinoni.
She spoke of her mother’s last days and some advice she and her family received from the oncologist who cautioned them that even if her mother did not seem aware, she could likely still hear what was being said in her hospital room. “The hearing is the last thing to go,” she said the doctor told them.
Ms. Nixon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. At the time, she was appearing in the Broadway production of “The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie,” and kept her diagnosis a secret. Her cancer was successfully treated with surgery and radiation.
“Breast cancer is beatable. It’s the most beatable cancer out there,” she said. “We have to check ourselves and get the mammograms …. My mother brought me up to believe that a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.”
Earlier in the evening, there was another appearance at the gala that received a rousing response from the crowd. RE/MAX real estate agent Kim Lund, who is using a wheelchair since an accident at his home last month, gave a speech, along with his business partner and fellow Breast Cancer Foundation founder James Bovell.
They gave an update on the charity’s work, including a wellness program, a support group, the use of cold cap therapy, which allows patients to retain their hair during chemotherapy treatments, and massage treatments for lymphedema sufferers. They pointed out that 72 percent of breast cancer patients develop lymphedema – swelling of the arms or legs caused by the removal of or damage to lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.
Cold cap treatment
Cancer survivor Tori Croft described how cold cap treatment had allowed her to keep her hair during her chemo treatments. She has fought two bouts of cancers, first in her teens and again recently. She described how, as a 17-year-old student, she was chosen to give the graduation speech at her school. “Imagine being bald for that,” she said. With the cold cap treatment, she has not had to repeat the experience of losing her hair. “I am proof that it works,” she said, explaining that the treatment allowed her to “take back some of the control that cancer had taken from my life.”
At an auction at the gala, bidders raised thousands of dollars for the charity, including paying $12,000 for a dinner with Governor Helen Kilpatrick at Government House, $7,000 for two photo shoots with photographer Melissa Wolfe, $6,500 for an Ellen Cuylaerts photograph of a manta ray, and $7,500 for a trip to New York to meet Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee on the “Today” show.
Ms. Kotb, who has been a staunch supporter of the gala for several years and was the keynote speaker in 2013, delivered a video message to the audience, encouraging continued support of the Breast Cancer Foundation.