SPRING of 1986 should have been the best of times for Jill
Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. Their friend Steven Bochco had asked
them to star in his new television series, a little thing called
"L.A. Law" that seemed a sure bet to be the hottest show of fall.
But shortly before the couple, then married 13 years, left
their home in New York to film the series pilot in Los Angeles,
Eikenberry found a lump in her breast - a discovery that would
change their lives in unexpected ways.
Eikenberry and Tucker will talk about their cancer experience
Oct. 18 at a St. Louis fund-raiser for the AMC Cancer Research
Center. After 8 1/2 years, they still recall the events of that
"I reached up and felt it," Eikenberry says of the lump.
"Actually, my gynecologist had already found it and scheduled
me for a mammogram. But I was about to go on a little vacation, and
she didn't want to spoil it for me. She just said, `I think it's
time you had a mammogram.' I was 38 or 39 and I'd never had one.
"Subconsciously, I guess the mention of it made me more aware
of self-examination, which I hadn't been all that good about doing.
And I found it."
"The `L.A. Law' thing was happening, with imminent fame and
immortality," Eikenberry says wryly. "And mortality slapped me in
Tucker went with her to the mammogram.
"It was scary," he says. "They asked her to wait, and then to
do another one. We knew it wasn't good."
But still they thought the lump might be benign, until they
went together to a New York oncologist.
"He started talking about options Jill might choose for
treatment," Tucker recalls. "I said, `When will we know if it's
cancer?' and he said, `Oh, it's cancer.' Just like that."
"He could tell from the mammogram that it was malignant,"
Eikenberry adds. "They can't always tell, but he could. He was
leaning toward mastectomy, because that's what he'd done the most
of. At the time, I was so frightened, I was thinking, `Anything,
just get it out.' "
Numb, in a daze, she went home and spent the next few days
"lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, crying." But when she
roused herself to go to a screening of a movie she'd appeared in,
she ran into a young castmate who took one look at her face and
asked her what was wrong.
"I hadn't intended to tell anyone, but it just spilled out,"
Eikenberry says. "She called over her mother, who immediately took
me into the ladies' room and pulled up her blouse to show me this
little scar on her breast. She'd had cancer 11 years before, and
"It was the first time it occurred to me I might not die. I
hadn't known anyone who'd had cancer and survived. And not only
might I live, I might not even have to lose a breast.
"It was a wonderful moment." A dear friend - ironically, one
who is now battling breast cancer herself - urged Eikenberry to
seek a second opinion.
"The second doctor was less conservative, very attuned to what
was happening in thinking about breast cancer treatment,"
Eikenberry says. "He told me I was the perfect candidate for a
After her diagnosis, Eikenberry and Tucker went to Los Angeles
to do the "L.A. Law" pilot, in which they played
colleagues-turned-lovers Ann Kelsey and Stuart Markowitz.
Then they returned to New York, where Eikenberry underwent
surgery to have the malignancy removed.
Eikenberry describes her cancer as "a 1-centimeter-long
estroge-positive tumor in the upper right quadrant - an operable,
contained, fairly small tumor in a fairly small breast." All those
things, she notes, are good.
Eleven lymph nodes were also removed, and none showed cancer.
Her prescription: radiation treatments, not chemotherapy.
"Two or three years later, with the same diagnosis, I probably
would have had chemotherapy," she says. …