"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Camille Grammer discusses how she worked to diminish the shame behind gynecologic cancers.
Camille Grammer, cast member of "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," actress, producer, writer, mother and survivor of endometrial cancer, has been involved with the Foundation for Women’s Cancer (FWC) throughout her journey.
This weekend, Camille will be walking at the FWC’s Race to End Women’s Cancer in Washington DC with her daughter and mother, who has ovarian cancer, and her team, Camille’s Crusader’s. FWC will also be celebrating their 25th Anniversary at the event. In an interview with CURE, Camille discusses the fight to feel feminine after her hysterectomy, how important education and awareness are to her, and the FWC.
How has your life changed since your diagnosis?
Psychologically, there have been so many changes. When you're first diagnosed, it's surreal. I was scared. But my mom survived stage 3 ovarian cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 2 uterine cancer. I was confident that I was going to survive it, because I watched my mom survive stage 3. And if I didn't have that, I would've been more doubtful.
I knew that I had a long road; I knew it was going to be difficult. But I had a positive attitude — I had in my head that I was going to survive it. I think that helps. I think many people going through this have to stay positive. A lot of it is mind over matter.
Tell me a little bit about the emotional and mental experience.
It’s your female body parts. It's interesting, since I don't have a husband and I'm a single woman, to-date. It's kind of an awkward moment: How do I bring up? At what time do I bring up the changes in my body after a hysterectomy? This is something that a lot of women have gone through with breast cancer, too — a woman who has a double mastectomy – I'm sure there's a feeling of your sexuality, your sensuality, your femininity, being taken away from you.
I've done things for myself to bring that back into my life. To feel sexy again, and feminine again, and sensual again, after such a trauma to the body, like a hysterectomy, chemo and radiation.
I've had women at different events that I've spoken at who have brought that up to me. That's a common thing that we don't talk about because it's kind of taboo. But women come up to me and go, "I didn't want to have sex" or "I didn't feel comfortable" or "When is the right time? When am I going to feel sensual again?"
What did you do to bring that back to life?
I started dancing. Previously, I studied dance and was a professional dancer. For me, getting back into physical activity was my first foray into feeling that again.
After my chemo and when I was recovering, I started walking. I walked a little further each day. I set small goals for myself. Then the way I started to feel feminine again was to dance. That opens up that part of your body, that opens you up to feeling pretty, feeling that I can dance in a sensual manner and hopefully that will help me open up that feeling again, or start to ignite those feelings again.
It’s a lot to do with liking my body, and feeling confident, building up my confidence after this experience.
Would you say that exercise is an important part of recovery?
After my mom’s surgery and chemo, she did not exercise. She was too afraid to. And it's really important to get out there, for our minds, our bodies and our souls. Walk, hike, whatever it is for some people. Even if it's just a short walk, or swimming, or starting to play tennis again.
It's a slow progression. Put some time aside each week and set small goals for yourself to get out there and do that for yourself. Exercise is a big part of of my recovery.
How did you get involved with the Foundation for Women's Cancer?
They reached out to me; they wanted a celebrity voice. I was so impressed with the foundation and what they do. It resonates with me because cancer is in my family — I'm a third-generation gynecologic cancer survivor. My grandmother passed, but my mom is still alive, still battling her third cancer right now. She's quite a warrior and an inspiration to me. This has been my life.
And what better way, if you have any level of celebrity, to give back? I think it's so important to raise awareness for female "below the belt" cancers. When I was at MD Anderson [receiving treatment], I constantly would think, "Camille, maybe this is your journey now."
Ovarian cancer was once known as the silent killer, but now we know there are symptoms. I saw my mother go through it and when she was diagnosed, she didn't know what was going on. She thought she was pregnant. She had no idea that it could be cancer.
And the foundation is a fantastic resource for information, and it links to oncologists from all over the country. If you're diagnosed or you think you might have a gynecologic cancer, you can go to the foundation and find a gynecologic oncologist near you.
Also, to know that you're not alone, there are many women that are going through this and being part of something and getting involved, also helps others. It helps others who are going through their fight, and other who have survived.
And it helped me. Giving back has rewarded me so much. I feel so good about. I tell the women at the foundation, "As much as you feel that I'm helping you, this is helping me even more than you could know." It gives us a purpose and it makes us feel like we're a family; there's a camaraderie amongst the women.
What do you hope patients and survivors take away from this event and your speech?
That we shouldn't be embarrassed. We should embrace that we are women and empower ourselves and help each other. I want to lift that veil of shame and promote awareness, and hopefully women will stop feeling shame about this, and feel empowered.
That's why I'm out there. I'm a warrior, and I'm an advocate and I want women not to feel shame. I want to try to break down some barriers and continue the movement of raising awareness
Did your family get any genetic counseling and testing?
It was my mother’s gynecologic oncologist that suggested I get testing for BRCA 1 and 2, and I was tested when I was 34 years old. I tested positive for Lynch syndrome. It raises our chances of getting colorectal cancer, stomach cancer, brain cancer, lung, skin, ovarian and uterine cancer.
When I first found out I had this genetic mutation, my oncologists and doctors were saying "You must get a hysterectomy." But I wasn't ready to. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have more kids, and on top of it, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go into surgical menopause.
That was a big decision. I chose not to. Fortunately, they got it at stage 2, but I waited too long. And looking back, I wish I had the hysterectomy, or a partial hysterectomy, a lot sooner.
But still, I'm here to talk about it and help others and tell them my story. And hopefully my story will help them to think about it.
What will it mean to you to have your daughter and mother with you at the race?
It means a lot to me. I'm very proud of my family. I look up to my mom. And I'm proud of my daughter to be involved in this by my side. She was there last year too. She was proud of her mom. Also, she helps in this and it helps in her self-confidence. She knows that she can do something, and chip in, to help others.