Actor Evan Handler on Life After Cancer

How this 'Sex and the City' actor manages career, health, well-being -- and a new baby -- after leukemia.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 31, 2008
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Evan Handler, you're in the Showtime series Californication, but you're probably best known as "the sweaty, bald guy" from your Sex and the City character Harry Goldenblatt -- a role you're reprising in the movie version of Sex and the City (opening nationwide May 30, 2008). You actually lost your hair while undergoing cancer treatment years ago. You're now 47. How did having acute myeloid leukemia at age 24 change you?

There have been times when it felt like I went back to being the same person. I didn't turn to God and become born again. I didn't retreat from big city life or remain vegetarian or macrobiotic. Other times I think I have been completely shaped by those experiences. I think my life has become about trying hard to move beyond the cancer.

You used to wear a wig. Ever still use one?

I have not put one on in a long time and would be eager to work with them more, but I am now known for the way that I look. I hoped my hair would grow back for a long time, but when it became clear that it would not, I shaved off whatever grew there.

What drove you to became a rather outspoken cancer advocate?

I was just so horrified by so many of the things that I have seen. Logic seems to dictate that if navigating the health care system was not so hard, then more people would have the chance to hang in there and maybe get better. I thought it was a story that cried out to be heard.

You're also an author. Your latest tome, It's Only Temporary: The Good News and Bad News of Being Alive, details your often funny search for life and love after cancer. How important was humor in the face of your illness?

It was very important, and largely led to my trading on it more professionally. I was not known for doing comedy or writing comedic material before my illness.

Any advice to newly diagnosed cancer patients, especially those who are given terrible odds of survival as you were?

My advice has always tended to be to gather information. Information is power. It won't make your situation better, but it will make your odds of making good choices better

A lot of cancer survivors get nervous when it's time for follow-up tests. Do you?

I do have panics that come on me if I have something wrong with me. It's difficult to presume it's nothing serious when it has been something serious in the past.

Were you anxious about your health before you were diagnosed with leukemia?

It was definitely there before, but nothing to be paid very much attention to. I was just another neurotic New York Jewish actor, but being a hypochondriac who gets a catastrophic diagnosis makes you the paranoid person who is really being chased.

How do you stay in shape when you are filming?

It's very difficult. Exercise wouldn't be that hard, but it's difficult to motivate to begin with. I used to run, but I don't run very much anymore, now I lumber. I have been hitting tennis balls against the wall. Physical fitness is an ongoing challenge. Eating is a real problem both on the set and when I travel. I am either in a small town where there is nothing good available or in a big city where all I want to do is go out to good restaurants.

You mention your family's genetic propensity toward obesity in your new book. How do you fight that?

Luckily for me, I didn't have any of those issues for the first 30 to 35 years of my life. I was the skinniest kid in the neighborhood and the kid who could eat whatever he wanted without gaining a pound. The last few years have brought about a steady swelling.

How does one stave off "steady swelling"?

I try to make myself more and more naked every time I weigh myself.

When you were filming Sex and the City, the tabloids widely reported that you suffered from "intractable hiccups" that stopped filming. Care to comment?

It was not true. I have no chronic hiccupping condition. I met a couple of writers in a bar and was hiccupping and it had been bothering me. That's all. It ended up being reported that I had them for two years and they disrupted filming. I got emails from all over the country from people wanting me to be a spokesperson for hiccup solutions. It's funny, I have had serious medical conditions in the past and I was never able to get as much press for them as I did for my nonexistent hiccups.

You and your wife recently had a daughter. How has that changed your perspective on life?

My wife and I have a hyperawareness of the bad things that can happen, and I underestimated how parenthood brings risk back into my life. I am back in touch with feelings that had gone blissfully dormant. We try to keep whatever anxieties we have from bubbling over and we take comfort from the fact that everything is great right now.

Your Sex and the City wife, Charlotte (Kristen Davis), had onscreen fertility problems. After your cancer treatments, you were supposed to be infertile, but that turned out not to be the case. Will there be a similar miracle in the movie?

My wife and I somehow managed to conceive in spite of what was supposed to be fertility problems. There are some things in the movie that are similar to my story.

How much of Harry is Evan Handler?

I don't see myself as that much Harry Goldenblatt, but I'd like to think that the prime qualities that he carries around of being soulful and good-hearted are part of who I am too. I am also really good in bed.

Show Sources


Evan Handler, interview, December 2007.

Handler, Evan. It's Only Temporary: The Good News and Bad News of Being Alive, Riverhead Hardcover, May 2008.

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