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Connie Britton's New Role: Healthy Living

The actress talks about mothering, staying healthy, and her work with cancer organizations.

What You Should Know Myelodysplastic Syndrome

The disease that claimed the life of Britton's father is part of a group of precancerous conditions that happen when the cells of the body's bone marrow are damaged. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 12,000 cases of myelodysplastic syndrome are diagnosed every year, but experts say this estimate may be low. Typical MDS symptoms include fatigue and shortness of breath during physical activity. Martin Tallman, MD, chief of the Leukemia Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, points out more facts:

  • The risk increases with age. MDS is rare in people under age 40, and most cases are diagnosed in people over 60.
  • Smoking and workplace chemical exposure can increase your risk of developing MDS.
  • If you've undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment for another type of cancer, like breast or prostate cancer, your risk of developing MDS goes up.
  • The FDA recently approved three drugs to treat MDS. Two, azacitidine (Vidaza) and decitabine (Dacogen), turn on tumor suppressor genes that are shut off in MDS. The third, lenalidomide (Revlimid), works only for MDS patients with a specific chromosomal issue.

Connie Britton on Motherhood

Bringing home her son, Eyob, now nearly 3, from Ethiopia in 2011 forced Britton to focus even more on the importance of a healthy life. "I'm his whole world," she says. "It really does weigh heavily on me. I've really committed myself to this person, and I'd better do a good job taking care of myself so that I can be healthy for him and live a good long life with my son."

Welcoming Eyob, nicknamed "Yoby," was bittersweet for Britton. Her mom had died shortly after Britton returned from her first trip to Ethiopia, traveling with a friend who was involved with orphanages in and around the country's capital city, Addis Ababa. Single since her marriage to John Britton dissolved in the mid-1990s, Britton had always thought she'd have children "someday." But the loss of her parents made her realize that someday had come, and her affinity for Ethiopia after that initial trip led her to choose African adoption. Today, she's the spokeswoman for the seven-nation African Children's Choir, which honored her at its ChangeMakers Gala this past November.

"It's a real bummer," she says of the fact that neither of her parents met their grandson. "I really wish that they could have known each other. It would have been so nice for him to have grandparents! And as a mom, now there are so many things I wish I could have asked them."

Many new moms who, like Britton, lost their own mothers years before having a child themselves may feel a fresh wave of grief when their child is born or they adopt. "Suddenly the new mother sees the world through the eyes of a mother and can identify with her mother in a way she couldn't before," says Hope Edelman, author of the bestseller Motherless Daughters and a follow-up book, Motherless Mothers, about the experience of becoming a mother when you don't have your own mom. "With that comes the sadness of knowing that the mother's not there to enjoy the child as their grandmother."

If you're in that position, be kind to yourself, Edelman advises. "Understand that this grieving is normal. And try to build your own network of experienced mothers you know who can give you that support you wish your mother could: your mother's sister, an older sister of your own, friends with older children. These connections can be very important."

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