Hollywood star Kathy Bates has fought cancer twice and emerged triumphant both times. But it hasn’t been an easy road for the 70-year-old actress. Now the Oscar winner has opened up about her battle with the deadly disease – and how it has changed her forever.
Bates was born on June 28, 1948, in Memphis, Tennessee. She studied theatre at Southern Methodist University and relocated to New York City after graduating, in the hope of making it as an actress. Bates started out performing on the stage and had minor roles in soap operas and movies.
Her breakout role was in the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s book, Misery. Bates scooped the Best Actress Oscar for performance as the obsessive nurse Annie Wilkes. The actress has since been nominated for two more Academy Awards, for 1998’s Primary Colors and the 2002 movie About Schmidt.
Bates is also known for her work in movies such as Titanic and Fried Green Tomatoes, and in the television shows Six Feet Under and Harry’s Law. Meanwhile, alongside her Oscar success, her sterling work in front of the camera has netted her two Golden Globes and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Furthermore, Bates has collected two Emmy Awards and been nominated a staggering 14 times. In recent years, she has become well-known for starring in American Horror Story. She has appeared in several seasons of the anthology series to date, and one of her two Emmys is for her work on the show.
In fact, Bates has worked continuously since getting her start in Hollywood – she even carried on performing during her battles with cancer. But rather than make a big deal about her condition after learning her diagnosis, the now 70-year-old decided to hide her illness from the public.
Bates was 55 years old when she was told that she had stage one ovarian cancer in 2003. The actress required surgery and underwent the procedure right away. But that wasn’t the half of it: she then had to have nine months of chemotherapy.
However, Bates chose not to disclose what was going on. “I didn’t tell anybody,” she said during an August 2018 interview with People. “I continued to work right after the operation, doing Little Black Book with Brittany Murphy.” The star explained that she was encouraged to keep quiet so that she didn’t become too associated with the disease.
“My agent at the time was very old-school and didn’t want me to be the poster child for ovarian cancer,” Bates said. So she stayed silent – though hiding her illness did take its toll. “I didn’t want anyone to know, but it really took a lot out of me,” she divulged.
Thankfully, Bates recovered from her first brush with cancer. But then in 2012 she had another scare. The actress complained of feeling utterly spent and was determined to get to the bottom of what was causing her exhaustion.
Consequently, she went to see her doctor who ordered an MRI scan to be carried out. Then, she was given some more heartbreaking news: Bates was told that she had breast cancer – and she knew what she needed to do.
Conscious that cancer had been somewhat prevalent among various close family members, Bates chose to have a double mastectomy. “My aunt had died from it, my mother had it, my niece had it,” she told People. The star had previously taken a test to see if she had the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.
Having the mutation means that a woman is at higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. And although Bates tested negative for the gene, she explained that receiving that result is “not a get out of jail free card,” as evidenced by her own experience.
Today, Bates has put cancer behind her – but that doesn’t mean that her struggle is over. She is now dealing with lymphedema, a disease that often occurs as a result of lymph nodes being taken out during cancer treatment. Lymphedema is an abnormal form of swelling that can develop in various parts of the body.
The condition can result in excruciating pain and is not curable. “It’s a souvenir you definitely don’t want,” Bates, who has lymphedema in each arm, told People. She admitted that when she was given the diagnosis, she feared that it was the end of her career.
“I really felt that life was over for me,” Bates confessed. “I probably wouldn’t work again, and I was angry for a long time.” However, her career continues to thrive and she deals with her discomfort by using compression sleeves on her arms. The actress has also lost weight in an attempt to lessen her pain, shedding an impressive 60 pounds through eating well and staying mobile.
Bates revealed that her passion for work is what has helped her through the difficult times. “Acting is my life force,” she told People. And while the star has thought about having reconstructive surgery on her breasts, she is “having too much fun” to take the necessary time off.
The 70-year-old is currently appearing in the eighth season of American Horror Story. She can next be seen later this year in the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, On The Basis Of Sex. After that comes The Highwaymen, about the hunt for notorious bandits Bonnie and Clyde.
Away from her day job, Bates lends support to organizations fighting against cancer and advocates to fund research for lymphedema. She is currently the Lymphatic Education & Research Network’s National Spokesperson and is working to get a bill passed that requires hospitals to provide further education of the illness to patients. In May 2018 she spoke at the inaugural DC/VA Walk to Fight Lymphedema & Lymphatic Diseases.
Bates believes women should be less concerned about how they appear on the outside and focus instead on their health on the inside by getting checked up often. “Quit taking the damn selfies and worrying about what you look like,” she told People. “Instead, keep everything working and in good order.”