Kathy Bates admits she's 'grateful for every moment'
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The actress who has also won two Primetime Emmy awards and two Golden Globe awards, is best known for her roles in NBC series Harry’s Law and the ninth series of Two and a Half Men. Yet back in 2003, Bates was stuck with a devastating ovarian cancer diagnosis. Her battle with the condition led to her having a hysterectomy – surgical removal of the womb – and nine rounds of chemotherapy. After overcoming the condition, disaster struck again, this time in 2012 when Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer.
With a strong family history of the disease, after both her mother and aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the actress barely hesitated before deciding on a double mastectomy – surgery that removes the entire breast.
“When the doctor told me that I had a tumor in my left breast, I said, ‘make mine a double. Take them both off. I wasn’t taking any chances,” she is reported saying in a previous interview with Practical Pain Management.
“Breast cancer runs like a river through my family. My mother and niece had it; my aunt died of it.”
Despite testing negative for possessing the breast cancer gene BRCA, the star took the illness in her stride, bravely having the surgical procedure to minimise her risk of the cancer returning.
Having fought off two types of cancer, and losing both her uterus and breasts in the process, things were not over for the American Horror Story actress as she developed a condition known as lymphedema.
SurvivorNet explains that lymphedema is a condition in which extra lymph fluid – clear fluid that travels through the lymphatic system and helps to fight infection and disease – builds up in tissues and causes swelling, typically in the arm and hand.
“Then I got something called lymphedema,” Bates explained when appearing on The Kelly Clarkson Show back in 2019.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but for cancer, they remove lymph nodes. If your lymph system is damaged, often times, the fluid will back up in the affected limb.”
While she was still recovering from her mastectomy surgery, Bates admitted to becoming angry after realising she had lymphedema.
She told SurvivorNet: “When I woke up, I immediately felt something strange, a kind of tingling in my left arm.
“I went berserk. I left the examining room and ran out of the building. I still had my drains in, I was holding a pillow to my t*ts, and I thought, ‘What am I doing? It’s July, I’m standing out here, it’s hot, I’m still healing, I don’t want to hurt anything.’
“I was mad as hell. I think it was the culmination of having been through cancer twice and realising that now I’d have this condition, this life-long souvenir.
“I was bitter, I was depressed. I thought my career was over, I thought, ‘There’s no way, I’m done, everything is done.”
The NHS warns that lymphoedema needs treatment as soon as possible in order to stop it from getting worse.
Other symptoms in addition to swelling of the limbs, in an affected part of the body can include:
- An aching, heavy feeling
- Difficulty with movement
- Repeated skin infections
- Hard, tight skin
- Folds developing in the skin
- Wart-like growths developing on the skin
- Fluid leaking through the skin.
Due to her ordeal with the condition, Bates has taken it upon herself to become the national spokesman for the Lymphatic Education and Research Network, where she has learnt some interesting statistics about the condition.
“It’s estimated that 10 million people in this country suffer with it,” she said. “That’s more than ALS, muscular dystrophy, MS, Parkinson’s and AIDS combined.
“Nobody knows about it and especially if we’re big girls and we go to a doctor and say, ‘I don’t feel right, my legs are swelling’ they say, ‘Oh, just go have a salad,’” she went on.
“It’s progressive and it’s incurable and it keeps going. You can get infections that put you in the hospital and it’s congenital, there’s about 50,000 of those people who are kids who’ve grown up with it.”
The NHS continues to explain that it is possible to control the main symptoms of lymphoedema using techniques that minimise fluid build-up. These techniques include:
- Wearing compression garments
- Taking care of your skin
- Exercising regularly
- Healthy diet
- Using specialised massage techniques.
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