A Timeline Of Suzanne Somers' Long Battle With Cancer

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Suzanne Somers, the former "Three's Company" actress, author, and health and fitness advocate, tragically lost her battle with breast cancer when she died on October 15, 2023. R. Couri Hay, Somers' publicist, released a statement reported by CNN, which in part read that she "was surrounded by her loving husband Alan, her son Bruce, and her immediate family" at the time of her death.

Over the years, Somers transformed herself from a successful actress to a health author and activist. The sitcom, "Three's Company" undoubtedly propelled her into stardom. Yet she also was fired from the show for asking for equal pay with her co-star, the late John Ritter. What many people don't realize about the former actress is that she was fighting cancer for more than two decades, and that she also faced separate health problems during her work on "Three's Company" so many years ago. According to Today, Somers' private funeral is set to take place later in October 2023, as of this writing, with a larger memorial planned for November.

Suzanne Somers was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2000

Suzanne Somers had been living with breast cancer for several years. In fact, she was first diagnosed with cancer in April 2000. According to Somers, her doctors discovered the cancer after the actress underwent a routine mammogram. They later removed a 2.4-cm tumor out of her right breast. "When you hear those three words, 'You have cancer' — wow — that's coming face to face with your mortality," Somers told Yahoo! Lifestyle in 2018 about the experience. "You never think that you're not here forever." She was 53 years old at the time of her diagnosis.

Somers first underwent a lumpectomy, which removed the tumor. However, due to the size of the cancer in her right breast, a large amount of the surrounding tissues were removed as well. She also had radiation therapy, which the Cleveland Clinic notes is a common follow-up treatment for a lumpectomy to help remove any remaining cancer cells.

She was forced to go public with her diagnosis after public criticism

While Suzanne Somers had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, she didn't publicly disclose her health struggles at first. At the time, Somers was still working. This included being a representative for the ThighMaster, a portable exercise device that is marketed for helping people shape their inner thighs. While no one should be obligated to disclose their private health information, Somers found that she was forced to do so as she faced scrutiny after accusations of hypocrisy after being spotted leaving the Lasky Clinic Surgical Center, a plastic surgery facility based in Beverly Hills. The National Enquirer was the first to report on this, writing in a March 2001 article, "fitness queen Suzanne Somers — who's made a fortune pitching the body-sculpting ThighMaster — hides a startling secret behind her picture-perfect body: She's undergone liposuction!" According to ABC News, numerous media outlets started calling the supposed scandal "Thighgate."

At first, Somers' representatives denied these claims. However, as the tabloids continued to push their unconfirmed theories, she decided to set the record straight during an interview on "Larry King Live" in 2001. "I chose your show to come on tonight to talk about something that is very hard for me to talk about, that I have never told anyone," she told Larry King, according to a CNN transcript of the episode. "In the last year I have been battling and surviving breast cancer, and I was in that clinic, and it all has to do with my breast cancer."

Suzanne Somers previously fought other cancers

While Suzanne Somers had breast cancer and tragically died from a recurrence of the cancer, you may not have known that Somers previously had other cancers before her initial breast cancer diagnosis in her 50s. These included uterine hyperplasia, which she had in her 20s, as well as melanoma, which she had in her 30s. "When I was Chrissy on 'Three's Company,' I had had cancer three times," Somers told CBS News in 2020. "They call it severe hyperplasia in your uterus. I didn't make a big deal about it. In my 30s, I got a malignant melanoma in my back. People just wanted to protect Chrissy Snow."

Somers seemed to suggest here that despite her medical issues, she felt forced to hide them in order to protect her job. "Suzanne has lived with cancer all her life," her husband, Alan Hamel, told Page Six in 2023. "In her 20s, she'd also dealt with two hyperplasia ... which is the waiting room for cancer." Also called endometrial hyperplasia, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that this condition isn't cancer itself, but it can turn into uterine cancer when left untreated.

She was selective about her cancer treatments

Suzanne Somers followed the traditional breast cancer treatment route at first, by reportedly choosing to undergo a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy. However, as breast cancers highly vary between individuals, some people need additional therapy. One such option is chemotherapy, which consists of taking cancer-killing drugs either by injection or mouth while under health care supervision. According to the Mayo Clinic, chemotherapy may be recommended after a lumpectomy to help prevent breast cancer from coming back, or if you have a higher risk of cancer recurrence. It's also sometimes administered before a lumpectomy.

While chemotherapy can literally save lives, it's also known for its terrible range of side effects caused by the medications killing healthy cells in the body along with cancerous ones. For this reason, Somers reportedly refused to take chemotherapy as part of her cancer treatment plan. She also explored alternative treatments, a point that remains highly controversial among the medical community.

Additionally, Somers refused a breast implant after her initial lumpectomy, which is another common post-cancer treatment. Instead, she waited and participated in an experimental Japanese surgery involving stem cells nicknamed "regrowing [of] the breasts." "Really, when they showed me, I cried," Somers told Yahoo! Lifestyle after the surgery. "I'd gotten so used to being without it. Imagine if you lost a body part and then it grew back? I had been without for 11 years and it grew back. And I had full feeling. It's a miracle." 

She announced she was cancer-free in 2007

In 2007, Suzanne Somers shared remarkable news. After being diagnosed with breast cancer nearly six years earlier, she was told that she was now cancer-free. While she had the initial required surgery and radiation therapy to treat the initial cancerous tumor in her breast, she also made it her mission to adhere to a strict organic diet, exercise regularly, get good sleep, and take care with the products she used. "Sleep is a game-changer," she told Yahoo! Lifestyle. "I decided to eat as though my life depended on it. And that I would eliminate negative thoughts, and I would think of everything from a place of gratitude." 

For many people, a cancer diagnosis can be life-changing in many ways, and Somers was no exception. As we saw over the years, her experience helped her make a radical shift in her lifestyle, even though she was perceived as someone who was already fit. "I just thought, I'm going to win this my way, I'm going to change my life," she told People in 2019. "I'm going to eliminate as many chemicals from my life, my lifestyle and diet, as I can possibly consume. So that's what I've done. There's not one chemical in our house and you can feel it when you walk in."

In November 2008, she was misdiagnosed with full-body cancer

About a year after she was given the breast cancer all-clear, Suzanne Somers received some devastating news. During a routine checkup in 2008, she was told that she had full-body cancer. "I ended up in the hospital for six days with a misdiagnosis of cancer," Somers later told ET in 2015. "When they read the CAT scan they said, 'You have cancer everywhere. You have a mass on your lung and it's covering your whole liver, and you have so many masses in your chest we can't count them, and they're all tumors, and you have a blood clot, and you have pneumonia.'"

Yet just how this could happen to the health-conscious Somers was a mystery to her, and something she couldn't accept. It turned out that the full-body cancer diagnosis was indeed false, and she told Entertainment Tonight the real source of her sudden health crisis. "This leased house that we were living in — there was an unfinished room downstairs where there was standing water and black mold ... we were breathing it in for the four years. I got the fungus in my lung which can kill you."

She caused a stir in 2009 with a book about cancer treatments

During her lifetime, Suzanne Somers was not only a successful actress, but she also published several books. Most of these were related to health and fitness. Yet there was one such title released in 2009 that caused a stir among several medical professionals. Titled "Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer and How to Prevent Getting It in the First Place," Somers' book primarily addressed alternative therapies for cancer prevention and treatment. "Somers' experts provide nutrition, lifestyle, and dietary supplementation options to help protect you from getting the disease in the first place," according to an excerpt of the book's description.

While Somers interviewed purported experts and advocated for a healthy lifestyle throughout the book, one issue that many doctors had was her open criticism of chemotherapy. Keep in mind that this was a treatment measure she had previously refused during her initial breast cancer treatment.  "Cancer's an epidemic," Somers said before the release of the book, as reported by NBC News. "And yet we keep going back to the same old pot, because it's all we've got. Well, this is a book about options ... And it's powerful to have information." 

However, doctors expressed concern that Somers could potentially discourage people from taking chemotherapy when they need it. "There's a tendency to oversimplify medical messages," Dr. Otis Brawley told NBC News. "Well, oversimplification can kill." One writer for the Daily Beast even questioned, "Does Suzanne Somers Cause Cancer?" in an article headline.

In 2018, she called her breast cancer 'a veiled gift'

In her interview with Yahoo! Lifestyle, Suzanne Somers talked about how she worked to make a difference in breast cancer awareness and discussions around treatment, thanks to her platform as a celebrity. "My cancer has become a veiled gift because when confronted with standard of care — the standard treatment protocol for cancer [being] radiation, chemotherapy, and after-care drugs — I looked at the doctor and I said, 'I can't do this.,'" she told the publication in 2018. "And he said, 'But you'll die.' And I said, 'I honestly believe I will die if I do what you tell me. The idea of flooding my body with chemical poison just doesn't reckon with who I am." 

Indeed, since her breast cancer diagnosis, Somers has stayed true to who she is, even if her published opinions about cancer treatments and prevention remain controversial. Yet, even when considering alternative cancer treatments aside, Somers' points about the foundations of good health cannot be ignored. She recommended that everyone assess the choices they make each day to determine whether they're on a path towards good health. Aside from making a gratitude list, Yahoo! Lifestyle reported that Somers asked herself the following questions every night, "What choices did I make today that took me towards the awful paradigm of aging — decrepit, frail, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, nursing home? Or, what choices did I make today that took me towards health?" 

Her cancer experiences also inspired her to launch a beauty brand

Aside from writing books about health, Suzanne Somers found other ways to put her passion for taking care of yourself to use. In 2019, this included launching her own beauty brand called "Suzanne Organics." As the name implies, this is a line of organic skin care, makeup, and other beauty products that was inspired by Somers' passion for clean products. Not only are all products organic, but they are gluten-free and toxic-free, too. "I saw this need and I'm filling the need," she told People in 2019. "We want something free and pure ... it just made perfect sense for me to create my own line." 

"My one caveat to the formula [of the products] was that it has to be as good or better than the chemical stuff," she also told People. "Because if it's not as good or better, women will go back to the chemical stuff because we fall in love with our products. And I know that we've achieved that." It appears that "Suzanne Organics" delivers on the promise of a wide variety of organic and toxic-free products. If you peruse her website, you'll not only find skin care and makeup products, but also nail polish, hair care products, and supplements. (You can even find her original ThighMaster product here!)

In the summer of 2023, Suzanne Somers announced her breast cancer returned

During the summer of 2023, Suzanne Somers took time off work, which raised suspicions among her colleagues and the public that her health might be the reason for this decision. Somers confirmed in an Instagram post on July 31 that her breast cancer had unfortunately returned. "As you know, I had breast cancer two decades ago, and every now and then it pops up again, and I continue to bat it down," Somers wrote in the post, which accompanied a picture of her husband, Alan Hamel, holding her. "I have used the best alternative and conventional treatments to combat it. This is not new territory for me."

Hamel confirmed these details in an interview. "She has now dealt with her cancer once again ... on June 6, she got an all-clear, but cancer is tricky and we will now closely monitor everything going forward," he told Page Six. "All her doctors said if she didn't lead a chemical-free, organic life supported by bioidentical hormones, she wouldn't be with us."  While Somers and Hamel remained optimistic, the news of Somers' cancer return was likely devastating for their family, as well as Somers' fans. "It's a recurrence of my breast cancer," Somers told NBC News that summer. "Like any cancer patient, when you get that's dreaded, 'It's back' you get a pit in your stomach. Then I put on my battle gear and go to war. This is familiar battleground for me and I'm very tough."

Tragically, Suzanne Somers died the day before her birthday

Suzanne Somers died from her battle with breast cancer on October 15, 2023. Tragically, this also happened one day before her birthday. "Her family was gathered to celebrate her 77th birthday on October 16th," her family said in a statement reported by CNN. "Instead, they will celebrate her extraordinary life, and want to thank her millions of fans and followers who loved her dearly." The outlet also noted that she was married to her husband, Alan Hamel, for more than 50 years. At the time of her death, Somers was surrounded by the family members who were there with the intention of celebrating her birthday. 

Just one week prior to her death, Somers shared some of her upcoming birthday plans with People, telling the publication that she was looking forward to spending time with her "beloved husband Alan, our three children, Leslie, Stephen, and Bruce, [his wife] Caroline, plus our six wonderful grandchildren." Hamel also weighed in at the time, "Suzanne and I just returned home from the Midwest where Suzanne had six weeks of intensive physical therapy. Even after our five decades together, I still marvel at Suzanne's amazing determination and commitment."

Suzanne Somers fought breast cancer for 23 years

Suzanne Somers ultimately fought breast cancer for more than 23 years. During this time, Somers tried to use her platform to help others, and she kept going even in the face of criticism. "I have had such an honest relationship with the American public," Somers previously told Larry King in her 2001 interview on CNN. "I mean, I have written books on alcoholism, and blending families, and they have been with me on my ups and downs and sides. And this was just one of those things — I think the most shocking words I ever thought, I never thought, I would ever in my life hear someone say to me that you have breast cancer." 

Yet she also made the most of her situation, which even critics could give her credit for. As Somers told People in 2019, "I would say one of the greatest gifts I had was getting cancer twenty years ago. And you don't think that the day you hear the words: 'You have cancer,' but, it was my wake up call." Not only did she adopt a new lifestyle that complemented her original lumpectomy and radiation therapy treatments, but Somers lived to tell her experiences for more than 23 years after her initial diagnosis.