'The Hardest Time of My Life': Jillian Barberie's Breast Cancer Story
Television host, sportscaster and radio personality Jillian Barberie, 54, sat down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan for a transparent interview about overcoming breast cancer, navigating depression and speaking openly with her kids about sex. For Barberie, it all started years ago when her coworker Lisa Ashley, the head makeup artist at FOX NFL, created an annual event called "Mammograms, Mimosas, Massages" to encourage fellow employees to commune and take charge of their health.
By 2018, the 12th year of the MMM program, Barberie was still reluctant to attend—her work schedule was full—but accepted a mammogram appointment at Ashley's insistence. It was there that Barberie's world changed forever.
She describes being called back again and again for testing: "They gave me a sonogram, and I was like, 'Uh-oh.' That's when I knew something was really fucked up."
Barberie's general practitioner called her with the news before a biopsy could even be scheduled, telling her she had "textbook breast cancer." The diagnosis came as a shock to Barberie, as, years earlier, she'd tested negative for the BRCA gene mutation (the breast cancer gene).
While she wasn't feeling any pain around the time of her diagnosis, what Barberie did experience was an inverted nipple. "They showed me [the cancer] onscreen. It was really creepy. It looked like a bunch of crabs, and it was grabbing my nipple from the inside out," she said.
Once diagnosed, Barberie said her biggest fear was telling her kids. Her first call was to her workplace to let them know she'd be out the rest of the day. Her second call was to Bedford Breast Clinic. She told the clinic, "I have breast cancer. Chop them both off."
Doctors at the clinic advised Barberie that a double mastectomy was a radical decision, especially before being biopsied, but Barberie simply told them, "I have a 9-year-old and I have an 11-year-old."
At the time of her diagnosis, Barberie had been divorced for four years. She had to balance treating her cancer with work and the realities of life as a single mom. "Four-hour radio show, four hours of chemo, and then come home and be a full-time mom. It was probably the hardest time of my life," she said.
When asked how men can support their partners who are undergoing breast cancer treatment, Barberie said that just being there and listening can help.
"You don't have to have all the answers. You don't have to be over the top about it. Do little things and just be there," she said, noting that men can also get breast cancer and revealing that her ex-husband's grandfather actually had breast cancer and "nobody really talked about it."
'Four-hour radio show, four hours of chemo, and then come home and be a full-time mom. It was probably the hardest time of my life.'
In the two years that followed her diagnosis, Barberie struggled with serious depression and weight gain. Dealing with the loss of her breasts and her hair—what felt like her femininity—left Barberie in a dark place.
"I would go in the shower to cry because I didn't want [my kids] to hear me," she said.
Her depression also negatively impacted her libido: "Sex drive, for me, was the last thing on my mind. I was trying to put food on the table for my kids. I was just trying to be the best mom I could be."
Barberie also spoke about how she talks to her kids about sex.
After being molested for a period from when she was about 5 to 10 years old, she knows it's important to talk openly about body parts and sex. "I always tell them, 'Those are your privates, and those are yours,'" she said, adding that she warns her children about the dangers of sexual grooming and the risks associated with using the internet.
While she worries about her children's internet safety, Barberie acknowledged the good that can be found online. She told us, "For some women, it's really important...Type in 'breast cancer' [on TikTok] and you see all these women...and their stories are way worse than mine." As a breast cancer survivor, Barberie finds the positive content uplifting during her dark moments.
Barberie's honesty about her journey through breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, her battle with depression and her conversations with her kids about sexual safety gives hope to others who have faced similar experiences—sharing inspiration and perspective.