Bates struggles with Lymphedema after 19 of her lymph nodes were removed as a treatment for cancer. She lives with pain, but no longer hides it.
Actress Kathy Bates has been holding audiences in her thrall with her splendid performances on screen for decades. Her repertoire of roles spans anything from being a mother to a woman who lost her husband recently (P.S. I Love You) to being a rich friend for a poor young man trying to make a place for himself in this world (Titanic). However, behind this performative brilliance lay personal struggles she had been unable to express until recently.
The 71-year-old Oscar winner (for the film Misery) has been working since the 70s in showbiz and nothing was handed to her on a silver platter. She initially struggled with the roles that came her way.
"I'm not a stunning woman. I never was an ingenue; I've always just been a character actor. When I was younger it was a real problem, because I was never pretty enough for the roles that other young women were being cast in. The roles I was lucky enough to get were real stretches for me: usually a character who was older, or a little weird, or whatever," she told New York Times in 1991.
1991 was also the year she married Toni Campisi. The couple was in a long-term committed relationship for 13 years before getting married. Unfortunately, their marriage ended after six years. The actor couple never had children, and Bates was thrown into a busy work-mode post the Oscar win.
She attained the status of being an established and successful actor much later in life and maybe that made her want to keep her personal struggles like her cancer diagnosis hidden from the rest of the world. It was only in September 2018 that she became part of the biennial fundraising special Stand Up to Cancer event, according to People.
At the age of 55, she was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer. She underwent surgery, followed by nine months of chemotherapy, but didn't tell anyone for reasons best known to her agent and herself.
"I didn’t tell anybody," she told People "I continued to work right after the operation, doing Little Black Book with Brittany Murphy. My agent at the time was very old-school and didn’t want me to be the poster child for ovarian cancer. I didn’t want anyone to know, but it really took a lot out of me."
Almost a decade later, in 2012, the Dolores Claiborne star felt unnaturally exhausted again and went to the doctor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. So, she had a double mastectomy as she had a family history with cancer.
"My aunt had died from it, my mother had it, my niece had it," she said, adding that even though she tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation, which increases a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, it was not enough. It is "not a get out of jail free card," she says.
However, her struggles with her health haven't ended here. Even though she is cancer-free she has to deal with lymphedema, a disease commonly caused by the removal of lymph nodes. It can cause a lot of pain and is without a cure. 19 of Bates' lymph nodes were removed and the doctors were cautious about "prescribing too much pain medication because of the risk of addiction." She was in pain for weeks, according to WebMD.
"It’s a souvenir you definitely don’t want. I really felt that life was over for me. I probably wouldn’t work again, and I was angry for a long time," she said.
However, she's moved on since then and her career is on a high again, since her fascinating performance in the American Horror Story series. But, she has to be very careful about her health. "I've lost quite a bit of weight, and that has helped considerably, but I still have to be careful. I can't have a lot of salt or alcohol, I have to stay out of the heat, and I'm not supposed to pick up heavy things," she said, adding some advice for women - get regular checkups and stay healthy.
She wants to help raise awareness about lymphedema and has become the National Spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network (LE&RN). She wants hospitals to have literature about coping with pain that accompanies the disease. She managed to deal with hers by wearing compression sleeves on her arm.
Acting, her "life force" is all that spurs her on through these tough times.