Kathy Bates: Overcoming Cancer and Living with Lymphedema

In the United States, Kathy Bates is a household name. Her remarkable acting career is recognized on stage and on screen, most notably for her Academy Award-nominated role in the psychological thriller Misery. However, behind the scenes, Bates has faced significant health challenges.

Triumphs on Screen and Battle with Cancer

Bates’s talents have graced the ninth season of Two and a Half Men and the NBC sitcom Harry’s Law, earning her two Golden Globes and two Primetime Emmys. Despite her professional success, Bates’s personal life took a difficult turn when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003.

She faced her diagnosis head-on, undergoing a hysterectomy and enduring nine rounds of chemotherapy. It was a trying time for the actress, but she managed to overcome the disease. However, her struggle didn’t end there. In 2012, Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Brave Choices: Double Mastectomy and Beyond

With a family history of breast cancer and knowing that her mother and aunt had also battled the disease, Bates made a courageous decision. She opted for a double mastectomy, a surgery that involves the removal of both breasts.

“When the doctor told me I had a tumor in my left breast, I said, ‘Make it a double.’ Remove them both. I wasn’t going to take any chances,” Bates shared with Practical Pain Management. “Breast cancer runs through my family like a river. My aunt, mother, and niece all lost their lives to this disease.”

Even though Bates tested negative for the BRCA breast cancer gene, she chose to undergo the surgery to reduce the risk of cancer recurring. Her strength and determination in managing her sickness were truly admirable.

Living with Lymphedema

But Bates’s struggles didn’t end with cancer. She also developed a condition called lymphedema. Lymphedema is a disorder that causes swelling in the arm and hand due to a buildup of lymph fluid, which circulates through the lymphatic system to defend against sickness and infection.

“I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but lymph nodes are removed to treat cancer. When your lymphatic system is compromised, fluid often accumulates in the affected leg,” Bates explained on The Kelly Clarkson Show in 2019, sharing her experience.

Discovering lymphedema while recovering from breast surgery was frustrating for Bates. She described the sensation as a peculiar tingling in her left arm, leading her to seek immediate medical attention. The realization that this condition would be a lifelong companion left her angry and depressed.

“I was irritable and depressed. I thought my professional career was over and everything was done,” Bates shared, expressing the emotional toll her health challenges took on her.

Raising Awareness and Seeking Treatment

It is essential to treat lymphedema as soon as possible to prevent it from worsening. Shockingly, an estimated 10 million people in the United States are affected by this condition. Bates highlights that this number surpasses the combined occurrences of ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, and AIDS.

Sadly, lymphedema remains widely unknown and misunderstood. Bates expressed her frustration, saying, “If we’re big ladies and go to the doctor with swollen legs, they tell us to just go eat a salad.” She emphasized that lymphedema worsens over time, doesn’t have a cure, and can result in hospitalization for those with congenital infections.

Fortunately, there are methods available to manage lymphedema and control its symptoms. The NHS emphasizes the importance of implementing practices that restrict fluid accumulation.

Despite the hardships she has faced, Kathy Bates stands as an inspiration, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity and tirelessly raising awareness about lymphedema. Her story serves as a reminder that even in the darkest times, we can find the strength to overcome and continue shining.