Kathy Bates on Living with Lymphedema

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Playing Kathy Bates’ Secret Health Struggle

Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates sits down with The Doctors to talk about an illness that affects approximately 10 million Americans and hundreds of millions worldwide: lymphedema.

Lymphedema is a condition caused by blockages in the lymphatic system, which prevent fluid from draining well, leading to swelling, usually in the arms and legs.

Bates says that following her double mastectomy for breast and ovarian cancer, she awoke from surgery feeling symptoms immediately. 

“I had seen someone with lymphedema who didn’t take care of it, and the toxins were visibly oozing," she says. "This was my experience with lymphedema. I wasn’t educated, and I was terrified this would happen to me.

"Doctors focus on the cancer, and they don’t really talk about lymphedema,” Bates adds.

When lymph nodes are removed following breast cancer, the body’s ability to trap toxins is compromised, and the toxins can seep out and cause a great deal of pain. 

Bates admits the pain is something she deals with daily. “I have pain. I have to massage every night," she says. "I have a lot of fatigue, and I need to wear my compression sleeves.”

Her treating physician, Dr. Emily Iker, discusses the need for patients to be seen immediately following surgery.

"Early intervention and diagnosis is critical, especially since lymphedema is a chronic and symptomatic condition,” Dr Iker says.

Bates is proud of her role as both a champion and spokesperson for LE&RN: Lymphatic Education and Research Network

“I decided to be their spokesperson because I learned that more than 10 million people suffer with this – more than muscular dystrophy, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and AIDS combined," she says. "My jaw dropped. The strange thing is that many celebrities are suffering with this, but nobody wants to talk about it.”

Bates discusses the need for education to train therapists specifically in lymphatic draining and the need for more research

You can join Kathy Bates in the LE&RN Network in their first 5K Run on Bates’ birthday, June 28 in Venice, California.