A humble, strong man and a humanitarian, Mark Ruffalo never fails to deliver. Just like he did when he decided to take on the burden of handling his tumor alone.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on August 9, 2022. It has since been updated.
Mark Ruffalo finds it difficult to keep a secret. The evidence? He once live-streamed the first 20 minutes of his film Thor: Ragnarok as well as gave out the ending for the Marvel film, Avengers: Endgame. But there is one secret he held close to him for a long time and it was one that would have been extremely painful to keep. And it was all for the sake of his then-pregnant wife, Sunrise Coigney.
During her pregnancy with their first child, Keen, Ruffalo recalled to Men's Journal that when he woke up one day, he remembered that he had dreamt of himself suffering from a brain tumor. Suspecting something was wrong, he decided to get himself checked and was proven right. The CT scan that was taken showed that he indeed had a brain tumor the size of a walnut behind his left ear. Doctors on his case told him that they could operate, but there was a 30% chance he might lose the use of the left side of his face.
Worried about the stress his wife would have to take on with this life-changing news, Ruffalo knew had one option — to keep it from her and fight this on his own. The actor wanted to ensure his wife had no reason to worry as she nurtured and cared for their first baby together. Though he was used to telling Sunrise everything, he kept his condition hidden from her and dealt with his acoustic neuroma diagnosis on his own.
After all, she was the love of his life and he didn't want her to be anxious about what he was going through.
The Oscar nominee recalled to the Journal about how they first met and how Sunshine's belief in him got him through the hard times. “All I had was my decency, wit, and charm – I didn’t have anything. When I met her, she was like, ‘You don’t have a driver’s license, you don’t have a credit card. What is wrong with you, dude? I can’t be with you!’ I was living in a converted garage, and she was there for that, she was game. She believed in me. She was like, ‘I know you’re a really good actor,’ and I was like, ‘You haven’t really seen me act yet.’ And she was like, ‘I just know it, I can tell'," he said.
After dating each other for three years, the couple finally tied the knot in 2000. And Ruffalo was more than ready to take marriage head on. "I ran to my marriage, I was happily ready to take on marriage," he said, according to Goal Cast. With this happiness and the promises he made to her in mind, Mark Ruffalo knew he had to shield her from knowing about his tumor, especially when she was pregnant.
But there was one more thing he wanted to do. He wanted his unborn son to know who his father was, to know that he was truly loved even before he was born. And so, Ruffalo recorded a video for him in case he didn't survive the brain tumor. "I was certain I was going to die," he told Men's Journal. "I made a tape for him. For when he was old enough to understand. Just saying, Hey, this is who I am."
Then a week after their son Keen was born and after months of hiding the tumor diagnosis from his life partner, Ruffalo finally opened up about it to his family. His mother recalled, "He didn’t tell anyone for weeks. When he finally did, I was like, 'Oh, my God. How could you bear all that?'"
A few weeks later, Ruffalo went under the knife and much like the doctors worried, he came out with the left side of his face completely paralyzed as well as deaf. It was a hard blow for him, one that made him retreat from the spotlight, just as he was making headway into Hollywood. In fact, he was on the phone with a representative with the DreamWorks production house but turned down the offer he was given. “There I was on the phone with him and I can’t move the left side of my face because it’s paralyzed. And no one knows," he said, reported NY Mag.
He wondered if he would ever be able to function normally, let alone act again. But once in recovery, things started to change for him. "Recovery really tested what I was made of as a man," he said, according to MensXP.
Soon enough, he was making headlines in the industry, bagging an Oscar nomination and winning Best Actor award across various events. But he never forgot who was there for him before all the fame his name brought. With a marriage spanning nearly 20 years, the couple have had their ups and downs, just like every other couple. However, it didn't change what they meant to each other. "Sunny and my friendship-slash-marriage-slash-love affair is also changing and growing along the way," the 51-year-old told Julia Roberts for Interview. "Honestly, it hasn’t been without its difficulties, its shortcomings; it hasn’t been without joy or learning or developing."
And with their three kids, Keen, Odette, and Bella Noche, the couple are showing just how happy a family they are. When asked about his idea of marriage, Ruffalo had simply this to say: "I think of marriage as a garden. You have to tend to it. Respect it, take care of it, feed it. Make sure everyone is getting the right amount of, um, sunlight."
Well, looks like there will continue to be sunny days ahead for the Ruffalo family. After all, a family that makes it through hard times together, stays together.
Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Photo by Evan Agostini