Jillian Barberie on breast cancer, depression and sexual abuse
The TV personality and breast cancer survivor sits down with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan to discuss her cancer diagnosis and treatment, the depression that followed, and how she talks to her kids about sexual safety.
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A Conversation with Jillian Barberie
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.
At the time of her cancer diagnosis, Barberie had been divorced for four years. As a single mom, she had to balance cancer treatment with work and the realities of parenting. In 2018, she underwent a double mastectomy. In the candid interview, she revealed that it was the hardest time of her life.
In the two years that followed her diagnosis, Barberie struggled with 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.
In addition to these struggles, Barberie revealed that she was molested from the age of about 5 to 10 years old. As a result of this abuse, she emphasized the importance of talking honestly with her kids about body parts and sex.
You are a fellow breast cancer survivor. What type of breast cancer did you have? When were you diagnosed? Take me through it.
Me and Lisa Ashley, who was the head makeup artist at Fox NFL when I was on the NFL pregame show, are really good friends. She decided to start this MMM, and it was mammograms, mimosas and massages—but it was mostly mimosas because I would make these French 75s.
Anyway, on the 12th year, I was like, "Fuck it. I don't want to go, I don't want to make drinks again. I have to work."
But Lisa said, "No. I'm booking you the first one of the day." So I went and got called back down again and again. They gave me a sonogram and I thought, "Uh-oh." I knew it. I just knew it. First of all, why am I getting a sonogram? When I was pregnant twice, I had two sonograms. That's when I knew something was really fucked up.
Did you have any pain?
Nothing. Although my nipple was inverted. It's called dimpling. They showed me on screen, it was really creepy. The cancer looked like a bunch of crabs and it was grabbing my nipple from the inside out.
I went back to make drinks, and my practitioner called. I asked him why he was calling me and he said, "You're handling this really well."
I said, "Handling what?"
"The fact that you have breast cancer," he said.
"The fuck do you know? I haven't even had a biopsy!"
"You do. You have textbook breast cancer."
So I went back to Lisa and I said, "I think I have to leave." Then I drove home and realized that my biggest fear was telling my kids.
Wait, so how did he know?
They called him first to tell me.
I called work—I was at KABC Radio at the time—and said I am not coming in, obviously. Then the second call I made was to Bedford Breast Clinic. I said, "You guys, I have breast cancer. Chop them both off."
They said, "That's pretty radical. You haven't even had your biopsy yet."
"I don't give a shit. I have a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old," I replied.
Did you ever do the genetic testing?
That's funny. I did that years ago, when Angelina Jolie did it. I spent four grand and it came up negative.
Really? Same with me. My BRCA1 and BRCA2, the gene mutations, were negative.
Same! What a waste of four grand.
What type of breast cancer did you have?
I am HER-negative, estrogen-positive.
How long had you been divorced when you were going through cancer treatment? Were you single at that time?
I had been divorced four years. I was totally single.
I would do a four-hour radio show, four hours of chemo at Cedars, and then come home and be a full-time mom. It was probably the hardest time of my life.
How can men support someone who is going through breast cancer treatment? What were you looking for?
I don't know, because I am so independent. I've never relied on a man. My last husband was a Marine sniper, and his grandfather had breast cancer. Nobody really talked about it. Men can get it, too.
I would just say to men, "Be there and listen. 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. If she's venting, let her vent."
Chemo is so stressful. It brings on such anxiety that for two years, I went through a hardcore depression. I gained a lot of weight—and allowed myself to. I realized I just need to be in this moment. I'm so sick of restricting myself. I never worked out.
When you're depressed, you don't give a fuck about anything. You don't care if you haven't talked to your father or mother in forever, you don't care if you haven't seen your friends.
Would you say your hair loss or your boob loss affected you the most? What made you feel less sexual, less of a woman?
It's interesting because they take your boobs and your hair and those are both feminine things. I don't know.
I was blow-drying my daughter's hair and I looked in the mirror and whispered, "Oh, I'm a fucking monster," and she heard it. She said, "Mommy! Don't say that! No, you're not!"
I replied, "But I look like Boris Yeltsin, like old."
"Who's that?" she asked.
But yeah, I was in a really bad place. I would go into the shower to cry because I did not want them to hear me. ...There were dark days.
So sex drive, for me, was the last thing on my mind. I was just trying to put food on the table for my kids. I was trying to just be the best mom I could be.
Have you had conversations with your kids about sex?
Oh, yeah. I was molested, so since they were very little, I have always told them, "Those are your privates and those are yours."
Because when I was little, it was different. I was adopted, and I thought, "Maybe this is happening because I'm not their flesh and blood," but then I found out years later that the same thing happened to my cousin, and he was their natural.
How long did you suffer through that?
From maybe 5 to 10. I always tell my kids, "It can happen to anybody. It can be a family member, it can be a beautiful, blonde woman on the street asking, 'Can you help find my puppy?'" There are so many ways things happen.
And the grooming—getting them comfortable with you without doing anything sexual.
Grooming is the really hard part. For me, grooming is all about online, and that scares me. I didn't have that when I was a kid and I was still sexually molested for years. Now it's online, it's out in the open.
Are both of your kids online?
Oh, my kids are online and savvy.
I'm so glad I didn't grow up with social media, even though I love social media.
For some women, it's really important. Since I've been on TikTok, I type in "breast cancer" and see all these women. Their stories are way worse than mine and it's so inspiring. It is so positive and fun.