Kathy Bates is bravely opening up about her cancer battle — and about one side effect she experienced that she feels is not discussed publicly nearly as much as it should be.
The 69-year-old has fought two very different types of cancer: ovarian cancer in 2003 and stage II breast cancer in 2012. But when she got diagnosed the first time, many people cautioned her against saying anything at all about her condition.
“Back in 2003, when I had ovarian cancer, my agent told me not to tell anyone about it,” she said. “Even my gynecologist, whose husband worked in the business, warned that I shouldn’t come out with it because of the stigma in Hollywood. So I was very careful.”
But then she saw another star, Melissa Etheridge, who had breast cancer in 2005, proudly performing onstage despite being bald.
Bates said, “I thought, ‘Wow, I wanna be her!’ So when the breast cancer diagnosis came, I knew I wanted to be honest about it.”
Much like her mother, who also battled breast cancer, Bates underwent a mastectomy. And she felt “incredibly lucky” to be alive afterward and grateful for all the research that made it possible for her to continue surviving.
But Bates also noticed that after her surgery, she was also beginning to experience a similar side effect that her mom had.
via Getty Images
“My mother had had a radical mastectomy — they took everything — and her arm swelled terribly,’ Bates said. “She was always a very smart dresser and wore very nice clothes, and after the surgery, she couldn’t fit into them anymore. It was a real slide into her feeling ‘less than.’ And so I remember getting hysterical when, even in the hospital, I noticed strange pains in my hands and then discovered that my arms were swelling.”
The medical term for this type of swelling is lymphedema, and it’s still a struggle for Bates.
“Now I’ve lost quite a bit of weight, and that has helped considerably, but I still have to be careful,” she said. “I can’t have a lot of salt or alcohol, I have to stay out of the heat, and I’m not supposed to pick up heavy things.”
However, she wants to use her experience to educate people who may not be aware of this side effect — even including some in health care.
Bravo to her! Clearly, she is silent no longer.
NEXT: See celebrities who are cancer survivors below.
Edie Falco: Breast cancer, 2004 Falco kept her treatment a secret from her Sopranos co-stars. “Surviving cancer has a way of making you re-prioritize," she's said. In her case, it meant starting a family.
Kathy Bates: Ovarian cancer, 2003; breast cancer, 2012 The actress kept her cancer a secret but after her double mastectomy, she told People magazine: "Breast cancer runs like a river through my family.
Fran Drescher: Uterine cancer, 2000 It took two years and eight doctors before the Nanny star was finally diagnosed. After the experience, she wrote a book and started a cancer foundation.
Rod Stewart: Thyroid cancer, 2000 The rock icon got lucky when his cancer was discovered during a routine scan. He lost his voice for three weeks, and now sings an octave lower than he used to.
Carly Simon: Breast cancer, 1997 After a lumpectomy and chemotherapy, the singer told the New York Daily News she was "stronger than ever. I've always thought of myself as a warrior."
Sheryl Crow: Breast cancer, 2006 The singer, then 44, had just broken up with Lance Armstrong when doctors discovered a tumor. After treatment, she adopted two boys.
Sharon Osbourne: Colon cancer, 2002 The reality TV star had one foot of her colon removed. After discovering she carried the gene for breast cancer, she had a double mastectomy.
Hugh Jackman: Skin cancer, 2013, 2016 Jackman was filming X Men when a makeup artist pointed to a red mark on his nose. It turned out to be basal cell carcinoma. He now gets skin checks every three months.
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro: Prostate cancer, 2003 De Niro, then 60, credited his complete recovery to early detection.
Christina Applegate: Breast cancer, 2008 The actress was only 36, but she had the BRCA gene mutation--her mom was a breast cancer survivor. She opted for a double mastectomy.
Michael C Hall
Michael C. Hall: Hodgkin's lymphoma, 2010 Hall used a break during Dexter to go through treatment. Getting a Golden Globe two-thirds through it gave him a "shock of positive energy."