‘Modern Family’ Star Fights Cancer With Laughter

Viewers of ABC’s mockumentary sitcom Modern Family, have gotten a glimpse of what Eric Stonestreet’s mother is like.

Stonestreet based his role as the gay character Cameron Tucker, in part, on his mom, a two-time cancer survivor.

(ABOVE: FROM LEFT – Rowland K. Robinson, Karla McKinley, Eric Stonestreet, Pat McEvoy, and Shelle Sills at Celebrating Women Luncheon. Photo: Kristina Bowman)

“In the acting world, opposites work well,” he said, explaining the power of combining his impersonation of his soft-spoken, sweet mother with his boisterous physical form.

Stonestreet’s philanthropic work also is motivated by his mother.

Inspired by her and other relatives who have faced cancer, the actor visits patients and raises funds supporting the advancement of innovative treatments such as immuno-oncology, which uses the body’s immune system to fight the disease.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Eric Stonestreet team up for the Ready. Raise. Rise. campaign to increase awareness of immuno-oncology research. (Photo: mathewmccabe.com)

“Cancer is a bad word,” he said. “But it’s not the same word it was five years ago. It’s not the same word it was 10 years ago. It’s not the same word it was 40 years ago.”

The actor recently told a Dallas audience about losing his grandfathers and a favorite uncle to cancer and how his grandmother survived the disease three times. His mother recovered from kidney and uterine cancers.

Stonestreet sat down for an interview with Baylor Health Care System Foundation president Rowland K. Robinson on stage at this fall’s Celebrating Women Luncheon, which drew more than 1,000 attendees at the Hilton Anatole Hotel The annual event has raised nearly $33 million since 2000 to help Baylor Scott & White Health fight breast cancer in North Texas.

“The statistics are staggering,” luncheon co-chair Pat McEvoy said, referencing Texas Cancer Registry numbers of 13 North Texas counties. “Every two hours someone in (the Dallas area) is diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Luncheon organizers also celebrated the memory of the late Al G. Hill Jr., who donated more than $1.5 million to Celebrating Women during the past decade.

As Cam on Modern Family, Stonestreet has received 20 award nominations, winning two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He’s proud of how the role has expanded cultural awareness and helped young people talk about their sexuality.

However, his admiration goes to patients who choose to fight their cancers and the caregivers – especially the oncology nurses – who help them.

“The people who are there day in and day out are my heroes,” he said, adding his girlfriend happens to be a nurse.

In addition to fundraising, he finds his usefulness in being there and making people laugh.

Like his character Cam, he’s a trained clown, but also a crier – a characteristic that helps on the show, but not at the hospital.

“I don’t want to lose it in front of someone who is at the end of life,” he said. Instead, he aims for upbeat, normal conversations with humor when possible.

Stonestreet recalled having to put on a hospital gown for his final visit with one patient.

“You never want to be overdressed for an event,” the actor told him.

“Tell me you aren’t wearing a tuxedo under that gown,” the patient replied.

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