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.
“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.