Playing House's Jessica St. Clair Wrote Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis Into the Show


The second season of Jessica St. Clair’s show Playing House finished airing in September 2015, the same month that St. Clair was diagnosed with stage 2b estrogen positive breast cancer. In a new essay, St. Clair writes about how she got through it, and how her cancer fight was incorporated into the show’s upcoming season.

St. Clair begins her guest essay on Stand Up 2 Cancer by saying, “I have to be honest, guys. I didn’t want to write this.” But she says she was motivated to do so anyway by thinking of other people going through cancer treatment who may be feeling alone, or who may be unaware of all the tips and “hacks” St. Clair used to get through her treatment with minimal hair loss and enough strength to care for her 2-year-old.

A procedure called “one-step reconstruction” allowed St. Claire to only undergo one surgery, during which the breast tissue was removed as she received her new implants. She’s pleased with the results, especially keeping her nipples, because “apparently my nipples are really important to me.” She also suffered through getting covered in ice following every one of her 16 rounds of chemo in order to limit side effects:

I froze my scalp for eight hours using “cold caps” to keep my hair from falling out (I only lost 30 percent). They wrapped ice packs on my eyes like a mummy in order to freeze my eyebrows and eyelashes (I didn’t lose a single one). I wore frozen booties and mittens to avoid getting neuropathy in my hands and feet. I took supplements my doctor recommended for the neuropathy and to strengthen my hair.

“All these ‘chemo hacks,’” writes St. Clair, “Made it possible for me to fake it enough that my daughter never knew I was sick, so she was never afraid. And for that, I am eternally grateful.”

The chemo was followed by twelve weeks of radiation, during which St. Clair and her writing partner and co-star Lennon Parham sat down to tackle Season 3 of Playing House. Again, St. Clair says she was reluctant to deal with the dark period she’d just been through, but they both decided it couldn’t be ignored:

So we went for it. In the new season, my character, Emma, gets diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoes the exact treatment I did. We were worried about bringing such serious subject matter to a comedy show, but we’ve always written what we’ve lived. And our real story is that with the help of her best friend, and the people who love her, my character is able to get through the treatment and actually emerge somehow happier and more fulfilled than she was before she was diagnosed.

Season 3 premieres on June 23 on USA Network. You can and should read St. Clair’s essay here.

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