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Shirley Temple Black

Copyright People magazine, 10/26/98

At first she did everything she could to deny it. When Shirley Temple Black, then 44 and special assistant to the chairman of the President's Counsel on Environmental Quality, found a lump at "12 o'clock on my left breast" in 1972, "I wasn't really worried," she says. "I don't know why." Postponing a biopsy, she headed off for six weeks of government talks in the Soviet Union, where, after experiencing a burning sensation in her breast, she thought for the first time, "I bet this isn't going to be so good."

Returning home to her family--marine research entrepreneur Charles Black and their three children--in Woodside, Calif., the ex-actress left breast cancer articles around the house because "I couldn't bring myself to talk about it to my husband." Her biopsy showed a malignancy, and she underwent a simple mastectomy. Afterward, she reached up "to feel the void. It was an amputation, and I faced it."

She did that in part by going public with her illness, a move that brought 50,000 letters of support. Now 70, Black--who later served as Ambassador to Ghana and the former Czechoslovakia--recalls that as a young adult star she was "one of the fortunate actresses in Hollywood who didn't wear falsies because I didn't need them." But she doesn't regret the surgery that likely saved her life. "I felt pretty good before the operation, and I felt good afterward," she says. "I just lost a good friend in between."