Jean Smart Takes a Leading Role in Battling Brain Cancer

How the veteran actress transformed a family tragedy into a quest for a cure.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 26, 2010
2 min read

Jean Smart is used to changing roles. The blond beauty first made audiences laugh as Charlene Stillfield on CBS's Designing Women sitcom, won two Emmy Awards as Lana Gardner on NBC's Frasier, and took home a third for her role on ABC's comedic hit Samantha Who? in 2007. She also made a splash as the emotionally unstable but smart wife of the president in the fifth season of Fox's TV thriller 24 in 2006.

Now, in one of her most important roles yet, the Seattle native has joined forces with the Chris Elliott Fund for Glioblastoma Brain Cancer Research (CEF) in Sammamish, Wash., to help raise awareness of and funds for one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer.

Sadly, Jean Smart's drive to find a cure for the disease hits close to home. Her older sister, Georgia, lost her nearly two-and-a-half-year battle with glioblastoma this past January. "It's just been an unbelievable, heartbreaking thing," says Smart, who was in the room when her sister was diagnosed. "She was the most loyal, loving, generous person that I have ever met."

Smart has been working with CEF as a member of the board of directors to raise awareness since September 2009. "It is a very fast-moving cancer. The sooner you find it, the greater chance you have of treating it," Smart stresses, frustrated that her sister's vision problems went unchecked for far too long. "She went to four eye specialists and not one of them ordered an MRI, even though they couldn't tell her what was wrong."

It wasn't until Georgia had to quit driving because of her vision problems that an MRI confirmed the Smarts' worst fears: a large, fast-growing brain tumor.

"There are treatments out there and there is research being done, but glioblastoma needs a lot of support. It needs a cheerleader," says Smart.

Recently, she took time from her busy schedule -- she's currently working on CBS's Hawaii Five-0 pilot and her upcoming film Life as We Know It -- to shoot public service announcements for the Washington state area. She hopes the they reach a national audience soon and dreams of CEF walkathons and other fundraisers in every major U.S. city.