This article first ran in the Fall-Winter 2018 issue of NewBeauty, available on newsstands until January 15, 2019.
Comedian Jessica St. Clair has made a career out of being funny. The New Jersey native specializes in improv, and counts being an Upright Citizens Brigade cast member, creating and starring in NBC’s Best Friends Forever and USA Network’s Playing House with close friend Lennon Parham, and a role in Bridesmaids as some of her resume highlights. So when the 41-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2015 at age 38, life abruptly became very serious. “My daughter wasn’t even two yet. I was making her breakfast and I touched my boob—to this day, I still don’t know why I did it—and knew something wasn’t right.” St. Clair moved quickly.
She went to the doctor that day, and after being diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, scheduled a double mastectomy and signed up for aggressive chemo. “That’s the order I did it in. I got my reconstruction before the chemo,” she says, crediting her successful results to a one-step reconstruction procedure courtesy of Beverly Hills, CA plastic surgeon Lisa Cassileth, MD at Bedford Breast Center. “You go to sleep with your old boobs and wake up with new ones. I even kept my nipples, which I didn’t realize would be hugely important to me. I have no visible scar and I basically have an internal bra, which they say will help keep my boobs from ever sagging.”
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Dr. Cassileth says many women aren’t given the option for a nipple-sparing, one-stage reconstruction. “Sadly, multiple surgeries and a loss of the nipples are still the norm.”
“In my case, my body is better now than it was before,” St. Clair says. “I didn’t have boobs that were anything to write home about previously, and after this, I’m happy to whip them out to anyone who will look. Not that anyone is asking!”
While St. Clair is now an open-book about her battle—even weaving her experience into Playing House’s plotline—she decided to keep her cancer a secret during her treatment.
“I could not wrap my head around talking about it while I was deep in it; I always knew I was going to talk about it, but I had to get through it first so I had a happy story to tell. That’s one of the great things about getting a reconstruction—if you want to talk about it, you can, and if you don’t, you don’t have to.”
“Even on the day I was picking out my new boobs, amazing things were happening. I knew I was witnessing a revolution in how breast cancer survivors were being treated thanks to my doctors. And, of course, hilarious things happened too—my best friend picked out my implants.”
She even recalls walking the red carpet four months into chemotherapy, post-surgery, and no one suspected a thing. “It was not the most fun I ever had, but I had had such a phenomenal reconstruction and was doing all these cancer hacks, so no one knew. I was on the beach 10 days after surgery! Sure, it takes a little while to get back to normal, but there are ways to speed up the recovery.”
Today, St. Clair also works with the AiRS Foundation, a nonprofit that provides grants for breast reconstruction after cancer to help educate other women on their options.
“I was lucky enough to have the means for reconstruction, but a huge percentage of women aren’t able to pay for it, which absolutely enrages me. Everyone needs to have access to this. It is not a cosmetic thing—it is so integral to healing your body and your mind, and the two are very linked. It’s one thing to be cured of cancer, but another to have your body restored to the way it was before.”
“My advice: First and foremost, find a doctor you can trust and don’t stop until you have the best of the best. You want to do this once, and you want them done right. You have to be your own advocate, which as women, we’re not used to. If you don’t get a good feeling, walk out the door. And listen to your recovery instructions! Those scar creams really do work!”
“Ask to see before-and-after images, talk to someone who had it done, and ask to see results in person,” she adds. “And if you have any questions, I am happy to drive to your house and show you my boobs! At this point, I feel like they’ve been in me forever.”