Kathy Bates Hid Health Battle As She Was Angry And ‘Didn’t Want To Have Cancer’ But Realized She Could Help Others

Mar 21, 2023 by apost team

Award-winning actress Kathy Bates survived cancer twice but she kept her health battle a secret because she was bitter, depressed and thought that her career was over. However, Bates met a doctor who changed her perspective and her journey to beating the disease, and she has been using her celebrity status to help people.

At a young age, Bates knew that there was a risk of breast cancer in her family because her aunt died of it and her mother also developed the disease in the 1970s. But the actress was surprised to learn that she had stage 1 ovarian cancer in 2003 and then found out that a family history of breast cancer could be linked to ovarian cancer as well. 

While a direct and outspoken person, Bates kept quiet about her chemotherapy and surgery and acknowledged her psychological struggles about having cancer. She had a hard time talking about her condition and chose to withdraw from her usual activities, except for work.  

Bates, born in Memphis in 1948, is one of Hollywood's celebrated actresses known for her critically-acclaimed roles in "Misery," "The Late Shift," "Primary Colors" and "American Horror Story." She has won an Oscar, two Emmy Awards, two Golden Globes and a couple of Screen Actors Guild Awards in her over 50 years as an actress. The well-respected star was filming “Little Black Book" while struggling with cancer and admittedly developed shorter patience for the people she was working with. 

Nine years after her ovarian cancer diagnosis, Bates learned she had breast cancer. She went for a double mastectomy and lymph node removal to prevent the spread and she was in more pain during her second cancer battle than the first. Worse, she had lymphedema or what she called a "souvenir of cancer.”

Kathy Bates (2020), (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

The challenges of her illness were tough on Bates, especially when she didn't want to talk about her cancer or when she witnessed first-hand how some people with cancer, who were very close to her, struggled with lymphedema. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains: "Lymphedema is swelling due to build-up of lymph fluid in the body. Lymph nodes act like a drain in your sink. If the drain is clogged, the fluid cannot drain." The condition usually occurs in the arms and legs and happens to 30 percent of breast cancer patients and has no known cure. 

“I didn’t want to have cancer ... and I really don’t want to have lymphedema,” the actress told Survivor.Net

Speaking with Practical Pain Management, Bates said she "was mad as hell" as well after her double mastectomy because her worst fears of developing lymphedema came true. 

"I think it was the culmination of having been through cancer twice and realizing that now I’d have this condition, this life-long souvenir,” she said. 

Bates said she was still feeling angry when she met a lymphedema doctor in Santa Monica, who assured her that her health struggles were "all in the past." The expert helped Bates course-correct her cancer journey and she realized she could be an advocate for screening, early detection and prevention.

With her new advocacy, Bates educated herself about the lymphatic system and its impact on cancer patients to become an effective spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network. She also learned to understand and accept that her treatment options were everything the doctors did right to give her the best chance of survival.

Now cancer-free in her 70s, Bates said her lymphedema has been manageable as well. She has become passionate about raising money to help with education and research for better treatments for diseases that impact the lymphatic system, such as cancer.


Kathy Bates (2016), (Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images)

Kathy Bates is one tough woman as a two-time cancer survivor! What can you say about her health battle or the fact that she beat cancer twice? If you know someone who could be inspired by Bates' cancer journey, pass this along!

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