‘I WAS SCARED I’D LOSE HER’
Harry Connick Jr & wife Jill’s BREAST CANCER BATTLE
Harry Connick Jr on wife Jill’s breast cancer battle— and why they kept it secret for years.
“When I first heard the news, I just totally lost it” —Harry Connick Jr on wife Jill’s diagnosis
The star opens up about his wife’s five-year breast cancer battle as she reveals why she kept her fight a secret for so long
The cosy, converted barn that Harry Connick Jr shares with his wife, Jill Goodacre, is tucked away at the end of a country lane in a quiet Connecticut town. At 50, Connick is a multiplatinum recording artist, actor and host of the daytime talk show Harry (shown here on Gem)—a man who could afford a Beverly Hills mansion or a Manhattan penthouse. But the couple are happiest far from the bright lights, enjoying a laid-back existence with their daughters Georgia, 21, Sara Kate, 20 (who goes by Kate), and Charlotte, 15. “We’re just incredibly private,” Connick says. “We’ve never wanted a high-profile life.”
Which is why, five years ago, they chose to weather their greatest challenge privately. In October 2012, Goodacre, 53, had a routine annual mammogram. With no family history of breast cancer, the actress and former model felt she had no reason to be worried; her mammogram confirmed as much. “It was all clear,” Goodacre recalls. “They said, ‘OK, looks good. Since you have dense breasts, just go across the hall for your sonogram.’ ” It was only during the sonogram—or ultrasound, as it’s commonly called—that something was detected. A biopsy and an agonising wait followed. Connick did his best to stay optimistic, telling Goodacre that everything would be fine. When she got the results she called him in tears. “It’s not fine. I have it,” she recalls sobbing. Diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, Goodacre was told she would need a lumpectomy immediately, followed by radiation. Connick, whose mother had died from ovarian cancer when he was 13, says underneath his stoic demeanour he was terrified. “I was scared I was going to lose her, absolutely,” he says now. “I wasn’t going to let her see that, but I was. I know from losing my mom that the worst can happen. She’s my best friend, and I really don’t know what I would do without her.”
Connick met Goodacre at a party in 1990, when she was the reigning queen of the Victoria’s Secret catalogue and he was best known as the New Orleans–bred big-band crooner who repopularised Gershwin on the soundtrack of When Harry Met Sally. They wed in 1994, and 23 years later Connick still gazes at his wife like a lovestruck teen. “I think one of the reasons we’ve lasted this long is that we’re so aligned in every way,” Connick says. “We have the same morals, the same goals.” Goodacre, who stopped modelling when she had her first child, agrees. “Everything that he values, I value so much too,” says the fellow Southerner, born in Texas. “And our family has always been the most important.”
One of the hardest parts of Goodacre’s cancer fight was having to tell their daughters. “I took to my bed when I found out. I was just wrecked,” she says. “When the girls all got home from school, they came up to my room and climbed in bed with me, and I told them. And just watching their faces—it was so horrible as I saw the fear dawning on them and the confusion. It broke my heart.” Adds Connick: “And they know about my mother, so while we reassured them that it was all going to be OK, they were also old enough to know that sometimes it doesn’t work out. That was so hard.”
One comfort for Goodacre and her girls was the news that she would not have to undergo chemotherapy. “It seems
like a small thing, but when the girls heard I wouldn’t lose my hair it made them feel better, and I get that,” she says. Still, her treatment has been gruelling: “The lumpectomy didn’t come back with clean margins.” Pathology tests showed she also had extensive ductal carcinoma in situ, a less invasive form of the disease. “So I had to go in for a second surgery the very next day. And then radiation absolutely wiped me out. And since then there’s been the Tamoxifen, which I’ve now been taking for five years.”
Tamoxifen, an oestrogen modulator taken in pill form that helps prevent the development of hormone receptor–positive breast cancers, can have difficult side effects. “It threw me right into menopause,” she says. “And then there was the weight gain.” As someone who once had a career built on posing in lingerie and swimsuits, Goodacre has found herself in a size and shape she had never before experienced. (The drug can lead to weight gain, particularly in the midsection, a side effect with the dreaded nickname Tamoxifen Tummy.) “I’ve always been a pretty fit person, and so to be just rounder and heavier and not to really be able to do much about it—that’s been hard. It’s taken a lot out of my selfconfidence,” she says. Connick understands her struggles. “It’s not silly and it’s not vain,” he explains. “It’s a part of how the cancer and the treatment impacted her, and it was a real issue, even though she will always be the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Now, as she approaches the five-year mark of remission, Goodacre is looking forward to stopping Tamoxifen soon and telling the world what few outside her family knew. But speaking openly about the ordeal still feels somewhat strange for them both. “It wasn’t like we were superstitious, like if we said something about being in the clear we’d somehow jinx it,” Goodacre says. “But we wanted to be well on the other side of things before we told everybody. The doctors all say that after the five-year mark, things look optimistic, so we’re starting to feel pretty good.” Goodacre also wants to spread the word about dense breasts and the need for ultrasounds as well as mammograms. “I’d never heard about dense breasts,” she recalls. “And if I’d only had a mammogram and walked away for the next year, things could have turned out so differently for me. Especially if your doctor indicates from your mammogram that you have dense breasts, you have to get a sonogram.”
Both Connick and Goodacre say their story is far from over. “It’s not something that’s just going to go away like it never happened,” Goodacre says. “I’ll always be a little nervous, always having to get checked, always hoping it doesn’t come back.” Her husband, for one, has the same hope he did after their very first encounter. “I knew as soon as I met her that I wanted to grow old with her,” Connick says of his wife. “I’m so grateful that I still can.”
“I want as many years as I can get with her. I want to know what she’ll look like when she’s old” —Harry Connick Jr
“We always knew we could get through anything together, but this sort of proved it,” says Connick, photographed for WHO’S US sister magazine, People, with wife Jill Goodacre on Oct. 16.
“This has felt like such a long road at times,” says Goodacre (at home with Connick in 2013, one year into her cancer battle).