Why Canadian TV icon Jeanne Beker is determined to make her breast cancer journey uplifting

The former Fashion Television star is opening up about determination and finding the 'silver lining'

Gratitude is something that's etched into Jeanne Beker's DNA. As her legions of fans well know, the Fashion Television icon and mom of two - whose parents were both Holocaust survivors – counts her blessings more than most. 

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And so, when she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 70, rather than go into hiding, Jeanne set about finding the joy. With her signature positivity, she took to social media to share every aspect of her "new normal," from Friday chemo sessions to Saturday morning trips to the farmer's market near the Northumberland County retreat she shares with her partner, Iain MacInnes, and their dog, Gus

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Jeanne's older daughter, Becky, an artist, lives nearby, while musician Joey drove from the Yukon to be her mom as she embarked on a 12-part course of chemotherapy (she will have surgery to remove the tumour, which has already shrunk, this fall).

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jeanne Beker (@thejeannebeker)

Jeanne's daughters have been right by her side during her chemotherapy 

Jeanne's ability to find the light in dark times, and her determination to help others in the process, made her the perfect person to kick off our new series, Women Who Inspire. 

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HELLO! Canada: Thanks so much for talking about this, Jeanne. Tell us how you found out about your cancer. 

Jeanne Beker: I just went for my routine mammogram. I go every two years as part of the Mount Sinai [hospital] breast screening program. I got a call a couple of days later: "Oh, we discovered a mass. You have to come back for a biopsy and an ultrasound."

But breast cancer, if detected early – as luckily, mine was – can be not just treatable, but curable. And I've always been of the strong belief that if you can't change a situation, try to change your mind. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jeanne Beker (@thejeannebeker)

Iain's daughter Julia gave Jeanne a unique care package – 12 gifts as she began her chemotherapy treatments

Of the thousands of comments I've received and the lovely notes of support, one woman [who was recently diagnosed] told me, "I've decided to see this as an opportunity disguised as an inconvenience." 

And I thought, yes. It's an opportunity to prove to myself that I'm everything I always thought I was – tenacious and fearless. It's also an opportunity to raise awareness for a very important cause and to really touch people, and to have people touch me back. That has been the greatest gift of all.

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It's quite an accomplishment to make people smile with a post about chemotherapy.

I don't want to offend anybody. I just want to instil people with hope and optimism and positivity, and help make them less afraid. There's so much fear surrounding this that needs to be eradicated. There's fear of mammograms – a lot of women put it off or they don't think it's necessary to go regularly. And if I hadn't gone, what would have happened? I was feeling 100 per cent.

Another fear, for many women, is hair loss. What's your hair-care regimen? 

I've learned to be gentler with my hair; I only brush it twice a day and I don't wash it every day. And so far, so good. 

I wear this cold cap [during treatments]. It's made by a U.K. company and it's not readily available at most hospitals. But were trying to make it accessible to more women. Maybe the government could eventually fund it because it's not cheap. And I think every woman or man should have access to something like that. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jeanne Beker (@thejeannebeker)

Jeanne visited Gregory Parvatan for a trim when she noticed some hair loss as a result of her chemotherapy treatments 

Jeanne: But, you know, if I was bald – I didn't even know about    the cold cap until my oncologist told me – I was already looking online at cute turbans and trying on different little hats in my wardrobe. I was quite prepared to lose my hair. And if I still do, I will wear it as a badge of honour because I have such respect for any woman or man or anyone I see who has lost their hair, especially as a result of chemo. 

How did Iain and your daughters react to your diagnosis? 

Iain and I were sitting in our local pub in Hastings [when the call from the doctor came in]... Iain has been through so much in his life. He's a widower, and one of his daughters [Julie] is a three-time cancer survivor. I looked across the table at him and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. And he was so great. Because he is so great. Thank God I am blessed to have a [supportive] partner, especially at this stage of my life. He said, "It's OK, we'll go through it together. We''re gonna get through it." 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jeanne Beker (@thejeannebeker)

Iain has been a solid source of support and love for Jeanne during her battle with breast cancer 

The girls were concerned, but the way I presented it was, "I'm going to tell you something now but I don't want you to worry – because it's going to be OK. I'm going to get through this."

What made you decide to be so open about your cancer journey?

I felt I had to, for me. I am a public person and my life's pretty much an open book. And it's been the most rewarding thing – not that I ever really lost my faith in human nature, but it certainly has helped fortify it. I've had complete strangers offer to take me to my chemo sessions or bring food for my freezer. People from throughout my life have been so wonderful and supportive. I just want to give them all a giant hug. 

Jeanne's comfort items include a cuddly mascot from a friend, a healing gemstone and her daughter Joey's latest album
Aurora Flopsies Mr. Nick Scotti Dog, $28; hellobabydirect.com
Blue Agate Palm Stones, $22; amazon.ca
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger, $25; indigo.ca
Ever Ahead by Joey O'Neil, spotify.com 
Cashmere Stole in Camel, $915; ca.maxmara.com

It's just swelled my heart and given me more strength and determination. I mean, these are still early days for me. I still have to go through surgery and then maybe radiation. And I'll be on a drug for another year after that... But you've got to try and find the silver lining. And you've just got to keep going. 

It feels like the pioneering Jeanne spirit we first saw on Fashion Television three decades ago has come to the fore once again. 

[Smiles] If I can push my way through a scrum to get to Karl Lagerfeld at the end of a Chanel show, I can lick this, no problem. 

This story originally appeared in Issue 830-831 of HELLO! Canada. You can follow Jeanne's journey on Instagram @thejeannebeker. Thanks to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Dr. Eitan Amir and Dr. Tulin Cil. For more information, visit the Cancer Society of Canada at bcsc.ca 

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