Today is Day 5 of my 31 Days of Self-Love posts to celebrate Self-Love Month with suggestions for jumpstarting your own self-love.

Taking charge of your healthcare is self-love. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Actress Kathryn Joosten has taken the reins to change that! You might know her from her role as Mrs. Landingham on The West Wing or as the feisty Karen McClusky on Desperate Housewives. Kathryn has that same feisty determination after being diagnosed and treated for lung cancer twice.

Now this two-time Emmy®-award winning actress has taken on what might be her biggest role—stepping into the spotlight to share her story as part of a campaign to decrease the stigma of lung cancer and educate the public about the importance of knowing the molecular profile of the cancer.

Lung cancer has been seen as a disease affecting people who smoke, creating shame since people are often accused of causing it. Kathryn says that many well-known people with lung cancer keep it quiet because of that. She’s determined to create a lot more awareness about why the stigma is unfair and that lung cancer treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Kathryn has become a poster girl for Lung Cancer Profiles, which provides important information about molecular testing in lung cancer, how to broach the topic with your physician and what to expect when getting tested.

Knowing the molecular profile of the cancer helps doctors devise an individualized plan based on the genetic makeup of a person’s tumor rather than using a general approach. It can minimize getting unnecessary treatment with bad side effects that doesn’t work and targets what’s most likely to work best. Lung Cancer Profiles is a collaboration between Pfizer Oncology and the nation’s leading lung cancer patient advocacy organizations. Visitors to the site can share their stories to highlight the diversity of lung cancer. Here’s what Kathryn Joosten had to say:

How did you feel when diagnosed with lung cancer? The first time around, 2001, I thought, “that’s interesting.” I was in complete denial that it would mean anything serious. I remember my interns and I looked at the x-rays and saw the spot. I saw that it was encapsulated; it wasn’t spread out and I thought they’d just take it out, which is exactly what happened.

And the second time? The second I never expected to get cancer again and it was devastating. I expected it to be taken out the same way as before, with no problem. When the doctor said I had stage 3 A, I almost fell through the floor. I did not expect that at all.

How did you get yourself into a mindset to fight? I have a very good actor friend who came over. I was crying and carrying on, convinced I was going to die. I was going to have treatments and lose my hair. He listened for a while and then said, “You’re going to do what you accuse everyone else of doing—you’re gonna go hide.” I said that I couldn’t let anybody know. He said, “You’ve got to attack.” And I recognized he was right! So I called my publicist at the time and said we would put it out all over the place—not hide anything. And that’s what we did. It was a tremendous tool that helped me get on top and handle it.

Then what did you do? I started therapy with a very talented therapist who had a lot of experience with people with cancer. Everybody needs a support system and I don’t have family nearby.

How did feeling empowered help you? I didn’t feel as terrorized and thought, “I can do something about this.” Then I began self-visualization and I do a lot of that. I know it works in medicine. Advocacy was a way of getting mastery over the disease. It gives you a tremendous feeling of power.

Why did you get so involved in Lung Cancer Profiles? Oh my God, it’s been needed!! But I’m tired of being the flag carrier. I want to find another one. I get so disgusted because I know of a couple of people with lung cancer but they won’t come out. It pisses me off that people with lung cancer continue to support the stigma and all of that crap about you won’t get work if people know. That’s not so! I work all the time. Yet people are ashamed to come forward.

Why aren’t you stigmatized? I have nothing to lose! I had a job during the first cancer on The West Wing. During the second one I was working for Desperate Housewives. I had my surgery, took a week off and came back to work. It was no different than working now. So it was no big deal. They weren’t going to fire me. You can’t fire somebody for having an illness.

How are you now? Cancer loses some of its terror as you learn more about it. It begins to get its proper place and priorities. I’m far more concerned about the cat limping than I am about my next C scan.

What keeps you going? I’m a high-energy person. I always have been, sometimes to my own detriment. But there’s no reason why not to keep going. What else am I going to do?

What would you say to someone who was just diagnosed? Get a therapist. Join a group. Learn everything you can about it. Understand that you’re going to go through a whole coloration of emotions. It’s gonna be up and down all over the place. I’m walking around and working so it ain’t so bad.

What do you say to people who try to put the blame on you for smoking? If they ask if I smoked I just say, “Why do you ask?” and leave it at that. If they push it, I just say, “You’re just encouraging the stigma. Are you blaming me for it?”  You’ve gotta put them on the spot! Make ‘em really squirm! And they won’t ask it again.

What’s your best piece of advice for making the most out of your life? Go for it! Don’t retire from life. That doesn’t mean you have to get a job or keep your job. It means you keep your mind active. I don’t exercise every day, though I should. I do ride horses and do equestrian sports. I jump a little. But don’t retire from life, turn on the television and become a vegetable.

If you or someone you know has lung cancer, check out Lung Cancer Profiles. Read the stories people posted and empower yourself with the info to have the best shot to recover.  Also, check out Kathryn Joosten’s BLOG.


Take the 31 Days of Self-Love Challenge–a pledge to do something loving for yourself for the next 31 days–and get my book, How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways for free at Read my 31 Days of Self-Love Posts from 2011 HERE.

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