The Scream star explains how the loss of his mother led him to become a passionate advocate for breast cancer research and screening.
Whenever actor David Arquette’s 8-year-old daughter, Coco, laughs, he’s reminded of his Mardi, his mother. “It’s pretty amazing,” he says. “I can see things about my mother in my daughter. Sometimes, when her feelings get hurt, I’ll hear it in the tone of her voice.” Unfortunately, Mardi never got to meet Coco. She died from breast cancer in 1997 at 58. “That’s the saddest thing,” says David. “I would have loved for my mother to have been able to hold Coco and get to know her.”
Despite the passage of time, David, 41, who is best known for his roles in the popular Scream movies, still finds it difficult to talk about Mardi. “My mother was a wonderful, very spiritual person,” he says in a voice thick with emotion. He clearly remembers the day Mardi broke the news of her illness to him and his four siblings, Rosanna, Patricia, Alexis and Richmond. “She downplayed it like it was going to be okay,” he says. “I was shocked.”
Mardi underwent chemotherapy and radiation. When the treatments made her ill, she tried holistic remedies. “I’d go to stay with her, and her body would be purple from something she’d tried,” David recalls.
David urged his mother to get a mastectomy, but she resisted. Eventually, it was too late—the cancer had spread. “She had breast cancer for nine years and seemed pretty healthy most of that time,” he recalls. “It was toward the end when she took a turn for the worse.”
Finding a healthy way to cope
The stress of Mardi’s illness took an enormous toll on the actor. “It was the first time in my life that my drinking really escalated,” says David, who has been sober since January 2011. “I wasn’t dealing with the situation with a clear mind. I was trying to numb my feelings.”
Ultimately, David found healthier outlets for his pain. Art became an important escape for him. “I painted all these spirit-like figures around a glowing heart-shaped light,” he says. “It was my mother in the middle and all of my family members around her. That was healing. It was the best way for me to cope.”
As Mardi’s condition worsened, David and his brother, Richmond, moved her bed outdoors so she could enjoy fresh air and nature. She passed away on a beautiful August day, and David was relieved that her suffering was over. Still, he admits, “There’s a terrible, hard mourning process. [For instance], you want to call [your loved one] and then it hits you that she’s gone. You really feel the loss.”
A passionate breast cancer advocate
Mardi’s battle motivated David to support breast cancer charities, such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation. He’s attended the Revlon Run/Walk for Women, a fundraiser that supports women’s cancer research, and he knitted a scarf, which appeared in the book Celebrity Scarves 2: Hollywood Knits for Breast Cancer Research (Sixth & Spring Books). A portion of the book sales goes to the Avon Foundation, which raises funds for breast cancer research and screening.
David is especially passionate about his involvement with the Keep A Breast Foundation, whose mission is to provide young adults with information about prevention, early detection and support via tongue-in-cheek “I Heart Boobies” apparel and accessories. David finds Keep A Breast’s hip sensibility refreshing. “They’re using humor to raise awareness and educate people about getting themselves checked for breast cancer,” he explains. “One of their ad campaigns encourages spouses or boyfriends to check. That’s a public service announcement I did—‘Check, it can be fun!’ They’re being silly but logical because they’re making people aware that not every woman checks herself.”
David’s advice for others who have loved ones suffering from cancer? “Everyone deals with it in different ways,” he says. “One of the most important things [I’ve learned] is not to take things personally if someone is dealing with the situation in a different way than you are. Try to be understanding.”
Check out David Arquette's new public service announcement on early detection of breast cancer!