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Meredith Baxter Talks Breast Cancer

Family Ties Cast Photo Season One  /  Meredith Baxter Talks Breast Cancer
by Jim Longworth

Meredith Baxter & Jim LongworthWhen someone has had a series of unpleasant experiences, they are said to have been “put through the wringer”. That describes my friend Meredith Baxter to a tee. As a child she endured a bullying and sometimes creepy stepfather. Her beautiful celebrity Mom was often distant. She was shipped off to a high school far from home where she attempted suicide. She was fired from her first job. She was physically abused by her husband. She struggled with alcoholism, was cheated by a business partner, and dealt with the stresses of coming out as gay. And, by the way, she fought breast cancer twice. 
 
Today at the age of 76, Meredith is cancer-free and happily married to long-time partner Nancy Locke. She has a great relationship with her children and is just about the nicest person I’ve ever met. She’s also unpretentious. One day I answered the phone, and it was Meredith on the line. I said, “I love it when celebrities call me.” Without missing a beat Meredith replied, “Well I’ll hang up and maybe one will call you.” We both laughed.
 
I first met Meredith in 2008 when she participated in a TV Moms event that I moderated for the Television Academy. That night we honored her for playing the beautiful hippie Mom to Michael J. Fox in “Family Ties”.  Next month she will be the keynote speaker at the 28th Annual Gathering of Friends luncheon in Greensboro, hosted by earlier.org, an organization that promotes early breast cancer testing. Meredith and I visited by phone recently and we talked about her personal experiences with the disease.
 
Meredith Baxter BookJL:  In your book, “Untied”, you wrote about being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999 at the age of 52, and you said that you knew very little about the disease, mainly just misconceptions.
 
MB:  Yeah, I thought you were not a good candidate for breast cancer unless your mother had it, and even then, it wasn’t guaranteed. I think my great grandmother on my father’s side had it, but I didn’t know for sure.
 
JL:  When you told your ex-husband of the diagnosis, you said he was “All caught up in the drama of losing a breast…MINE.” Talk about the importance of family support when you have breast cancer.
 
MB:  I think anytime there’s a trauma going on in the family, you want to know that you have people you can count on to listen to you complain and to have an outlet, so they know that you’re hurting. I would say that my kids filled in that blank. I didn’t want to do anything at first and just couldn’t believe I had cancer. But my daughter Kate said, “Mom, you gotta do it”, and you just don’t argue with Kate, so I had surgery. I will also say that in the absence of support like the situation with my ex-husband, they’re taking up all of the air in the room with THEIR sense of tragedy and what THEY were losing. That’s hard to take.
 
JL:  I’ve heard some women say that they won’t get a mammogram because they don’t want to know. What do you say to them?
 
MB:  I understand that. My father died of Alzheimers and his father died of Alzheimers, but I refuse to take one of those ancestry tests because I am terrified of knowing. So, I can’t argue with someone who wants not to know if they have breast cancer. Of course, if you feel a lump, you’d be an idiot not to get a mammogram. There’s no down-side to getting a mammogram, and the earlier you get diagnosed, the better your chance of surviving.
 
JL:  You’ve been through a lot of stressful events in your life, most of which you wrote about in your book, and which you talk about at speaking engagements. Do you ever have women come up to you and thank you for your honesty?
 
MB:  Yeah. After my book came out, I was on a plane and the flight attendant walked down the aisle and knelt down by my seat and whispered, “You told my story.”  And that happens a lot, whether it was about my book, or whether it was about a movie I was in, like the one about Bulimia. Young women who watched that film would come up to me and say, “Oh my God, how did you know my story? It made such a difference.” I found out later that the Bulimia movie was mandatory viewing in a lot of high school health classes. So, I like being part of something that makes a difference for people.
 
No doubt Meredith’s upcoming appearance in Greensboro will make a difference in many more lives.
 
The Gathering of Friends luncheon is on Wednesday, October 11 at the Sheraton Greensboro Four Seasons. Following the luncheon, Meredith is scheduled to sign copies of her book. For tickets visit  www.earlier.org.
 
***

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