Actor Jayne Meadows watched her 93-year-old mother die of cancer, and she went with her husband, comedian Steve Allen, for daily radiation treatments after he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
But nothing prepared her for her own diagnosis of skin cancer about eight years ago.
"You hear the word "cancer,' and you think, "My God,'
" she said. "You could say cancer of the hair follicle and I'd be nervous."
Although she was aware of the seven warning signs of cancer, Meadows said she didn't think the tumor near her nose needed testing.
"It was absolutely round and pearly-white and shiny," not irregular in shape or a strange color, she said. Her doctor told her to have a plastic surgeon remove it so that no scar would be visible.
Now Meadows and Allen tour the United States to make people more aware of the disease and issues that cancer survivors face.
Meadows came to Tampa this weekend for the first conference of the Florida Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. She will speak at a luncheon today at the Hyatt Regency Westshore. People can still register for the last day of the conference today for $20.
"Cancer has increased since I was a little girl," said Meadows, 68. "But so have the survivors (increased).
"When I was a little girl, no one ever talked about it," she said. Death notices in the newspaper did not give cancer as the cause of death.
And no one knew that too much exposure to the sun could cause skin cancer.
"We were just told, "It'll give you wrinkles, darling,' " Meadows said.
As a child, Meadows spent hours and hours in the sun. A natural redhead with fair skin, Meadows said she realizes her cancer could have been prevented if there had been more education.
Alcoholics have support groups, and so should cancer survivors, she said.
"With a survivor program, they treat everything. Once you have cancer, you need a support group of friends and family.
"When Steve had his colon cancer operation, not one single doctor . . . gave him any diet to live by," Meadows said.
She and Allen now follow the Pritikin program, which limits fatty foods and salt.
"The trick with cancer is to get it right away, get it quick, before it spreads," Meadows said.
She also warns people about the dangers of secondhand smoke. She was exposed to a lot of it when she starred in movies with stars like Tyrone Power and Bob Hope and some roles required her to smoke as well.
"Everybody smoked in the movies, and I was playing a glamorous woman. But I didn't really enjoy it," she said.
In addition to educating people about the disease and preventing it, Meadows is promoting Allen's new mystery novel, which she hopes will be made into a movie.
The book features Allen and Meadows as a crime-solving couple. Meadows had wanted Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds to play her and Allen's parts, but she was shocked to learn the couple is splitting up.
Meadows and Allen have filled in for the younger couple at American Cancer Society functions.
"Anybody can get a divorce," said Meadows, who will celebrate her 39th anniversary with Allen on July 31.
"There is no secret (to a long marriage). If I knew it, I'd bottle it and be the richest woman in the world," she said.