Q&A with Kathy Bates

The veteran actress, who is in three movies and two TV series this year, talks about what she learned from surviving ovarian cancer.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 21, 2011
4 min read

A popular actress on stage and screen, Kathy Bates has played everything from an unhappy wife (Fried Green Tomatoes) to a literary fan gone psychopathic (Misery), a free spirit mother of an adult son (About Schmidt), a wisecracking political advisor (Primary Colors), and Gertrude Stein (Midnight in Paris). She has appeared in numerous TV shows and series, including Six Feet Under, The Late Shift, and Annie. She sat down with WebMD the Magazine to talk about her experience with ovarian cancer, her health habits, her favorite healthy snack, and just what piece of advice she'd like to give other women.

In your video interview for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, you said that going through the experience of fighting ovarian cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you. Why is that?

It helped me see that I'm lucky, and I feel grateful to have the opportunity to continue working, to have relationships with friends, to travel, to have a good relationship with my family. All the things that we begin to take for granted in our daily lives.

You advocate listening to your body and heading to the doctor if anything strikes you as wrong. Before the cancer, did you tend to ignore what your own body was telling you?

You get to the point where you don't want to go to the doctor. You tell yourself you don't want any bad news. [In 2003] I was in Europe and a friend said, "You know, you don't look well." I was very flushed and very tired and I kept thinking it was the heat. Finally I decided I was not feeling right and I went back home and saw the gynecologist.

How have your health habits changed since?

I've tried to eat better. I try to get more exercise. It's not always easy; it's a constant battle, but I do the best I can.

How is your health now?

My health is very good. I've got a lot of energy. I feel really positive and happy to be at work.

You're an Oscar and Golden Globe winner, you're in three movies this year, and you're in two TV series -- The Office and Harry's Law -- plus you do work for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. How do you manage to do all that and still find time to exercise?

Thankfully Harry's Law has a huge set and I'm on my feet walking all day. Of course, in the courtroom we're always on our feet making closing arguments and cross-examinations. I find it to be a really good workout.

This year you're in the movie A Little Bit of Heaven, about a woman who discovers she has cancer. How did this storyline resonate with you since you've had the disease yourself?

Kate [Hudson] lost quite of bit of weight for the movie, and her makeup was certainly reminiscent to me of my own face. My own complexion got very white and I lost all my hair. It was sometimes hard to look at.

What's your favorite healthy food?

One of the things that I eat on set for a quick protein snack is beef jerky. I'm trying to balance my carbs and proteins.

What do you do for relaxation?

I love to read and to play with my three dogs. I also love my iPad and being online and seeing what's going on in the world. I don't tweet and I don't do Facebook, but I like surfing the Web.

Do you find yourself recommending a healthy personal practice to your friends?

I don't really proselytize -- it's more the other way. Everybody at work has their own idea of what keeps them going, and most of it involves something that tastes really terrible. So I'm afraid I'm on the receiving end of those kinds of tips and not the one that hands them out.

What's the one piece of health advice you'd give to other women?

Don't let your weight get out of control. Once that happens you go on diets and you get on a yo-yo effect with your weight. That's the one health problem that I have fought all my life and I wish I had been able to get a handle on when I was younger.

What are your best health habits?

I cut Cokes out of my diet. It's so easy to reach for one for the caffeine and sugar when you're at work, but I cut it out.

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

My costumer, Mel, is very conscious about her eating habits and has really taught me a lot. She's very well versed in her diet and has been helpful to me in terms of what to eat during the day to keep my energy going.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope I'm still working at top pace like this. You know, I wouldn't mind working for another five years and then looking forward to retiring. I would love to perhaps retire in another country, like France -- or who knows, maybe stay here. Right now, I'm just happy working and I hope our show runs for a good few years.

How can women learn more about the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance has symptom diaries at www.ovariancancer.org to help women track possible symptoms of ovarian cancer.