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Health & Parenting

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Bryce Dallas Howard on Acting, Mothering, and Staying Healthy

With two highly anticipated movies and baby No. 2 on the way, the young actress claims her place in the A-list spotlight.

Caretaking for Those With Serious Illness continued...

"I don't respect her choices, but I can empathize with her," says Howard of her character, who cheats on Gordon-Levitt's character, eventually dumping him to face his fate alone. "Can you imagine being in a relationship, dating casually, and suddenly something like this happens? It encapsulates how life-and-death circumstances leave a person so very vulnerable, not only to the illness, but also to the people all around him."

In real life, newly diagnosed patients need a team of supporters, says Karen Mercereau, RN, founder and executive director of RN Patient Advocates in Tucson, Ariz. This team should include family members, a social network, and top doctors -- and if possible an independent advocate who understands how hospitals work and where to find the most relevant information regarding insurance, support groups, and leading-edge research.

"When a person is first diagnosed, he hears very little," explains Mercereau, a scene played out in 50/50 when Gordon-Levitt's character suddenly turns oblivious to all around him as his doctor's voice drones into gibberish the moment he utters the word cancer. "The patient is having his own internal dialogue and is fighting fear. That's why it's so important to have someone who can explain procedures not just once, but six times if necessary. New patients don't have that kind of head space to take it all in."

Howard's Postpartum Depression

Thankfully Howard has never faced such a diagnosis, although she has "lost two grandparents to cancer, and I've definitely had many people in my life who've dealt with it, including a close friend who's fighting a rare form of it now."

Instead, her greatest personal health challenge was her crippling bout with postpartum depression after her son was born in 2007. It lasted 18 long, distressing months.

"I was 25 years old, and I had this idea of the kind of mother I wanted to be," Howard tells WebMD the Magazine. "I held onto that vision and completely stopped checking in with myself. My feelings were the complete opposite of what I wanted or expected to feel, and that was so overwhelming. Circumstances around the birth were challenging. ... My husband [actor Seth Gabel] had to return to work just five days after Theo was born. I felt awful. But I didn't know to say: 'I have postpartum depression.' I didn't recognize I was in it. I just felt like I was a bad person or that I wasn't dealing well with everything."

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