Kate Walsh may have played a doctor on TV for years, but even she needed a push to visit a physician when she was feeling extremely exhausted and losing her train of thought.
Turns out, she had a brain tumor.
The Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice actress revealed to Cosmopolitan that she had a benign meningioma the size of a lemon removed in 2015. Though she’s now fully recovered, the health scare was a “wakeup call” for Walsh.
In early 2015, Walsh began to feel exhausted — though that seemed to be a given with her busy schedule.
“I had been working insane hours, maybe 80 hours a week, and also working out really hard, so I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “I figured, okay, I’ll change up my workout routine, I’ll go back to mellow stuff like hiking.”
However, other symptoms began to present themselves. Her pilates instructor noticed that her right side was dipping and she would swerve into the right lane while driving. Around April of that year, she became concerned when she began noticing issues with her cognition.
“It felt like aphasia, but it wasn’t just not being able to find words; I would lose my train of thought, I wasn’t able to finish sentences, and that was when I got really alarmed,” she said.
Walsh saw a neurologist on “instinct” and pushed to get an MRI, which revealed a tumor in her left frontal lobe.
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“The words ‘brain tumor’ were never in my zeitgeist,” she explained. “I went in for the MRI, and you know it’s serious when they don’t even wait, they’re like ‘hey, the radiologist wants to see you.’ And she starts to say, ‘Well, it looks like you have a very sizable brain tumor’ — and I just left my body. My assistant had driven me there, and I had to go get her so that she could take notes, because I was gone. It was never anything I would have imagined.”
Three days after the MRI, the actress went into surgery where surgeons removed the benign mass.
Though the immediate threat was taken care of, Walsh knew she had to slow down during her recovery.
“I love to work hard and do 800 things at once, and this was a really amazing lesson in just submitting to the process of healing,” she said. “I did exactly what the doctors told me to do, and asked tons of questions when I had them, and got lots of support, and just took my time.”
After a nine-month break from working, Walsh shot several projects including Girls Trip and 13 Reasons Why. Though long days of shooting are still in her schedule, she makes sure to get a good night’s sleep and not overbook herself.
What she learned from the experience is simple: see a doctor when something’s up.
“We’re all so socialized to try to self-diagnose, like ‘I’ll change my workout, I’ll change my diet.’ I’m very proactive and willful and independent, and in the past, even though I played a doctor on TV for years, I was not one to go see doctors very often, other than for my annual OB-GYN appointment,” she said. “So for me, it was a really big wakeup call to do annual check-ups, and that’s why I wanted to pair up with Cigna for this campaign. I love the idea of changing the framing around healthcare, and changing it from a reactionary thing — ‘Oh my god, I’m sick, I have to go to the doctor’ — to something more along the lines of preventative care. We should go get a checkup the same way we go to the gym, just preventatively, instead of waiting for something to go wrong.”