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Actress Kathy Bates on Her Cancer Journey and Why She’s Determined to Help Others

Photos: Courtesy of Keith Munyon

If not for a close friend urging her to visit the doctor, Kathy Bates may not be here today. “She saved my life,” recalls the American Horror Story star of her diagnosis. She had been feeling flushed and tired, but chalked it up to work. “It would have been easy for me to write off all of those things if she hadn’t been there.”

Struck twice

Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years after surviving ovarian cancer despite testing negative for BRCA 1 & 2 gene mutation. “I want women to know that test is not a get out of jail free card.” She admits, “Even with my family history of breast cancer I was less vigilant. Once again, I thought my exhaustion was from overwork. I really wished I had caught it earlier.”

“When I got breast cancer, I was inspired by women who were brave enough to go out with bald heads. Clearly, it’s an epidemic. Why hide?” She believes each appearance or magazine article is an opportunity to remind women to pay attention to their bodies. “Now there’s a tumor marker blood test for breast cancer. I would urge women to make that part of their regular checkups as well as continuing with breast self-exams” she says, reflecting. “Often they’re so busy taking care of others they forget to look after themselves.”

Additional concerns

Bates also became an outspoken ambassador for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network in the fight against lymphedema, which can affect up to 30 percent of breast cancer survivors. “The challenge is getting the word out,” she says. “Millions of Americans suffer with some form of lymphatic disease. Unfortunately, during four years of medical school students spend only 15 to 30 minutes on the lymphatic system. As a result, this progressive disease will go undiagnosed for years.” 

Bates feels lucky to have a less severe case of lymphedema, and hopes speaking about LE will help educate the public and physicians. “I’m grateful my hardships have given me a purpose. Funny how that happens.”

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