Kathryn Joosten, a two-time Emmy winner for her role as feisty neighbor Mrs. McCluskey on Desperate Housewives, has lung cancer – and she plans to do everything she can to fight it.
“I’ve got a little hang-up here,” Joosten tells PEOPLE exclusively of the diagnosis she received less than a week ago, “but we’re going to handle it and move forward. I’m doing great.”
The actress, 69, who already won a bout with lung cancer in 2001, broke the news to her Housewives producers Monday morning as she expects her shooting schedule could be interrupted for treatment. “They’re totally supportive,” she says. “I said, ‘If you want to put it in the story line, do it! Tell anybody you want, because the public’s going to know.’ “
Two weeks ago, the actress – who also played Mrs. Landingham, the beloved secretary to Martin Sheen’s President Bartlett on The West Wing – underwent her annual physical exam during which doctors discovered a spot on her lung. Tests will determine the type of lung cancer Joosten is suffering from and her course of treatment.
“I felt like the legs had been pushed out from under me,” Joosten says of receiving the news. “I completely did not expect it, and was devastated. I was crying for nearly five days straight.”
Removing the Stigma of Lung Cancer
Joosten, who regularly speaks about beating cancer, flew to Okalahoma City the day after receiving the news for a previously scheduled speaking engagement, where she talked to an audience of 600 people about surviving and living your dreams.
After coming to terms with the diagnosis, she now says she wants to speak out more about fighting the disease. “To get back in control, I have to attack. I have to make this something that I can have an effect on, she says.
Joosten, once a heavy smoker who quit on the day she was diagnosed in 2001, adds, “My other goal is to try to erase some of the stigma of lung cancer.”
Because lung cancer is often associated with smoking cigarettes, she says, it is often dismissed as something lung cancer sufferers did to themselves. “The first thing everyone says is, ‘Did you smoke?’ Yeah, I smoked,” says Joosten. “I smoked because Betty Davis said it was very glamorous. I smoked because it was seen everywhere and done everywhere. I got addicted because the tobacco companies add additives to their tobacco to make it more addictive. I’m damned mad at all of them. But that stigma has to go away.”
In short, Joosten says, “No one deserves lung cancer.”