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Q&A With Chandra Wilson

Actor Chandra Wilson talks about breast cancer, Denim Day, and her personal health philosophy.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You’re best known for playing tough but loyal Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, whose show nickname is The Nazi. What has the role taught you about what you do and don’t want from health care providers?

It has humanized physicians for me. You want to think when you go to your doctor that they know everything, and they don’t! They have to leave that appointment, sit down at a desk, pull out books, do research, talk to colleagues -- the answers aren’t always right there. We have to be proactive in our health care. We need to come to our doctors’ appointments with questions and suggestions. It’s easy to sit back and say “You’re the doctor, tell me what to do,” but we have a larger role than that.

Lee National Denim Day, which is sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation and has raised more than $70 million for breast cancer, is on Oct. 3, 2008. What spurred you to become a Denim Day Ambassador and urge others to “go casual for a cause”: Wear jeans to work and donate $5 to breast cancer research?

Breast cancer research, and cancer research in general, are high on my priority list. I’ve had so much cancer in my family -- it seems that every two or three years we have another family member affected by it. We’ve had brain cancer, stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer. We just lost one battle with cancer in March of this year.

My generation of the family is really trying to be aggressive: What are the markers? What are the things we have in common? Any research that I can support along those lines will help not only our family but thousands of others.  And Denim Day fits in with that perfectly. The exciting thing is that in one day, so much money can get raised. It’s fun and it’s easy -- you donate $5 and throw on a pair of jeans. But with that $5, multiplied by millions of people, you’ve done so much to advance research. Just go to www.denimday.com to sign up as an individual or a group -- even join me on my team!

Who has influenced you most when it comes to your health?

Probably my very good friend Thaanha Lai, a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2001 and just came off tamoxifen. She grew vegetables in her garden in New York City, walked and rode her bike everywhere. When she was diagnosed, it was such a surprise because she was so healthy and she wasn’t even an A-cup! But her doctor told her that her body was in such good shape that she was far ahead of the game in dealing with the effects of cancer treatment. Because it’s not just the cancer, it’s the effects of treatment like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Watching her go through that stuck with me: Pay attention to what you’re putting in your body because it’s equipping you to be able to handle it if you have to fight.

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