Actor Kathy Bates Says Even Holding Up a Book Is Hard Due to Lymphedema after Breast Cancer Surgery

The irrepressible actor Kathy Bates, 70, does not sugarcoat her feelings. In a candid interview with SurvivorNet, the two-time cancer survivor, who now has lymphedema, was alternately cheerful, choked up and fierce in her belief that aftercare should not be an afterthought. With a hot, new film about to be released — “Richard Jewell,” directed by Clint Eastwood — the Academy Award-winning star at the top of her game still carves out time to share her experiences and learnings with fellow survivors.

Bates, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003 and breast cancer in 2012 that resulted in a double mastectomy, says one of the hardest parts of her journey has been lymphedema, a side effect of her surgery. Because cancer often spreads through the lymphatic system, lymph nodes are often removed. But extra lymph fluid can build up in tissues and causes swelling, usually in the arm and hand.

“I didn’t want to have cancer … and I really don’t want to have lymphedema,” says Bates. But “I feel blessed [to have the condition] because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be in a position to use my celebrity to do something that can maybe help people.”

The Start of Her Journey

In 2003, Bates was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer. The treatments made working extremely difficult, she says.

At the time, she was working on the movie “Little Black Book,” with Brittany Murphy. “I needed the payday, I wanted to work with her,” Bates explains. But to do so she had to be on set three weeks after her surgery and while she was in chemo.

Among other issues, she said, the treatment resulted in difficulties controlling her bowel movements.

“When you’re on set you don’t want to have to be running to the restroom every time, so that was really hard,” Bates says. “I lost patience with people when things would be draggy. You really can’t do that on a movie set because things are going to go at the pace they’re going to go and yelling about it isn’t going to help.”

She also found post-chemo extremely difficult: “You come off of the steroids, and I just found that the hardest part,” she says. “It was like detoxing. I was shaking, I couldn’t talk, and I remember I had to go do a voiceover and it was just so, so difficult.”

The cancer, she says, “knocked the stuffing out of me.”

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