Kym Douglas, a star of shows like “Home & Family” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” says her breast cancer diagnosis taught her one important lesson—how to advocate for herself.
All photos by Bethany Mollenkof
It is easy to see why Kym Douglas is so beloved. The actress, television host, comedienne, wife and mother radiates a certain charm that is irresistible. Whether she is offering beauty advice on Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family,” cracking up audiences on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” or just relaxing in her trailer, it is clear Douglas’s sunny demeanor is no act.
That much was apparent on a warm February afternoon on the “Home & Family” set as many members of the cast and crew sang her praises. And it is perhaps that same openness that helped her tackle her most challenging role yet—breast cancer survivor.
“I’m like everybody,” says Douglas. “I never thought it would happen to me.” After a day filled with hair, makeup, and many outfit changes around the house of the “Home & Family” set at NBCUniversal Studios, Douglas is eager to share her story. It is one many cancer warriors and thrivers may be familiar with—despite no family history of the disease and despite eating right, working out, and being “aware of the environment,” she developed cancer.
Douglas was asked to create a story on concierge health services, and for the story, she was also the subject. The service came to her house and tested her cholesterol and blood, among other services. To close out her file, the service also needed to complete a pap smear and perform a mammogram. “I was like, okay, I’ll get back to you on that,” Douglas recalls. “But I had somebody from this health company [and] this one woman was always bugging me.” Douglas felt a gnawing sense that she needed to go, especially because it was three years past her last mammogram. In this case, her intuition was correct. Douglas was later diagnosed with stage III breast cancer.
“I felt it was truly a divine intervention,” Douglas begins. “It truly was this divine appointment to have this woman constantly on my shoulder telling me you have to get this appointment. Because as we know, the longer it went, the worse it could have been.”
Douglas learned many things about herself throughout the course of her treatment. “I am a wonderful avoider,” she says. Despite her diagnosis, Douglas continued working the entire time. Her choice to do so allowed her to frankly acknowledge the truth of cancer. “I didn’t have hair, I didn’t have nails and the irony [is], I’m a beauty expert on television standing next to 30 year olds,” she says. “But you kind of see the metaphor in what really is beautiful.” She values her hair and makeup team through this time as well as the friends (like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who also battled breast cancer) and the crews from “Home & Family” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” who were all understanding and supportive.
Cancer affects one mentally, physically and spiritually. Rather than delegating things to other people, Douglas “took the bull by the horn” and trusted her instincts to find the right doctor and medical team for herself.
Cancer brought an inner strength, a muscle I had never used before. I had to face it head on, so I did, because I just wanted to get it out of me.Kym Douglas
“When I would meet someone and the energy was bad, I would make excuses,” Douglas recalls about her pre-cancer life. “[Cancer] was such a shift in my whole being, my brand, everything I had built my life on.” Taking charge allowed her to put herself—her concerns, her needs—first. “[Cancer] brought an inner strength, a muscle I had never used before. I had to face it head on, so I did, because I just wanted to get it out of me,” she says.
Her journey also reintroduced self-care into her life. Despite living in Los Angeles for more than 35 years, Douglas says she’d only visited the beach a handful of times. It took a cancer diagnosis to change things. “I would go down there, and I would just sit and pray and meditate, and I would just take in the water,” she says. “There was something about looking at this expansive, huge ocean that would make my problem not so big and make me know the magnificence and majesty of God, that he can help and take care of whatever our problems are.”
She now regularly takes walks on the beach and remains present. “Look at this ocean, look at this sand, look at this blue sky. I am alive,” declares Douglas. Self-care is not about expensive products or treatments. And it’s not about indulging ourselves beyond our means. Instead, Douglas says, real sustenance is found in the simplest methods.
“We’re told in social media—and life in general—that you need to spend money and go on a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, or you need to go to the Hydration Room and spend $150,” Douglas says about the falsehoods of modern self-care. “[But] it really is about free [things like] walking. Anybody can do it. If you have $2 to your name or money is no object, it is the same. It evens the playing field.”
After rigorous treatment—which included the “chemo cocktail,” a double mastectomy, and radiation—Douglas is in remission. The experience, she says, has given her a different perspective on being alive. Most importantly, she has learned to put herself first. “We as women are the caretakers. I take care of my dog, I take care of my son, I take care of my husband. I make sure that everything is done for the career,” Douglas says about her life. “So I make myself a priority now.”
Everyday, she gets up early, a change from her previous life of “chasing the clock.” Douglas sets aside five to 10 minutes for a morning prayer, meditation, or reading her bible or daily inspirational book. At night, she walks the dog, cooks dinner, watches reality television and takes baths. Things have slowed down, but she’s more diligent than ever about the products she uses, from makeup to pots and pans. As Home & Family’s beauty expert, Douglas is tasked with finding the latest. Now, she makes sure to recommend things that are great aesthetically and chemically. “I don’t have to be the trendsetter. I don’t have to be in the latest [things],” Douglas says. “I just want to make sure that it’s healthy.”
Douglas is now working on another book about overcoming. It is a departure from her past releases. “This is the Kym that nobody sees, except for a few people in my life. It’s the warts and it’s the bad times and it’s stripped down to its studs,” Douglas says. “I’m very afraid of it and I avoided it and I stepped away from it, but I think it’s important to talk about it.”
Cancer has transformed her life, maybe for the better. “While I would never want to wish cancer on anybody, and certainly not myself, cancer in a very weird way was a very strange gift where it stopped me. It made me reassess. It shifted a lot of stuff for me. It helped me get stronger,” she says. “I haven’t made friends with cancer. We’re like frenemies. I don’t like her that much. She’s not that good of a friend, but she’s somebody that taught me a lot too.”