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.
What healthy habits are you pursuing and trying to teach your kids, who are aged 15, 13, and 2?
I’d love to say that I’ve made a 180-degree turn and gone from night to day, but we’re making progress. We tried going cold turkey with things like healthy foods, and the kids acted like they were starving to death. It has to be baby steps -- I’ve had to wean them. Now they do fine with fruit and vegetables and yogurt. We’ve been experimenting with smoothies, and everyone likes apple slices, so we do those with a little peanut butter. And we’re drinking a lot of water and cutting out most sodas and juices, except orange juice and grapefruit juice for breakfast.
What’s your favorite part of your body?
That’s a fantastic question! What makes me happy? I have nice hands. I like them a lot. I have nails, and for a small person, my fingers are kind of long. They present well -- they wear jewelry real nice, you know what I’m saying? They can wear a ring.
You’re now 39. How do you feel about aging?
Bring it on! The word is that you get better and smarter and wiser with every year, so I’m like, c’mon, let’s get to that part. I’m looking forward to 40. Oprah says 50 is better, so I’m trying to get there.
Which was more challenging, your TV pregnancy or your real-life pregnancies?
I was very fortunate to have really nice pregnancies. Aside from having C-sections, the actual pregnancies weren’t so bad. Consistently, around the seventh month, my nose would spread 2 inches, my lips would grow, and my hands would swell, but they were uneventful pregnancies and I really enjoyed being pregnant. But strapping on the belly -- that was kind of crazy, and it moved around all the time. So I’d have to say the TV pregnancy was harder.
How do you relax?
I love to watch soap operas. But really, it’s just about finding time to breathe. I go and have a seat for just five minutes, breathe, and remember how fortunate and grateful and thankful I am. I never want to lose that part of the deal.
Is that your personal health philosophy?
Thankfulness? Yes. Attitude is a good 50% of the battle, and the rest is all the medical and the technical and whatever else you have to do.