Emily In Paris Star Ashley Park Reflects on Being Diagnosed with Cancer When She Was 15
"When you've been through a really hard time you don't want somebody else to go through it," said Ashley Park
Ashley Park is learning to embrace being a cancer survivor as part of her identity.
"Many times people bring up my cancer experience," Park said. "I totally don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s very important to talk about, but I also appreciate when I’m not asked to talk about the experience, or about how it’s informed how I’ve lived my life."
The actress, who is best known for playing Gretchen Weiners in the Broadway adaptation of Mean Girls, then explained that her biggest fear used to be letting her cancer define her career and identity.
"I never wanted to be just the Asian girl, just the ‘whatever’ girl, and then I got to 16 and was the bald girl and the sick girl," she said.
Park also opened up about trying to ignore harmful side-effects of her chemotherapy treatment.
"I didn’t want to know that I might be infertile or that my heart might stop working or any of that stuff because once you say it, you’re thinking about it. Even though my body beat the disease, if I let it change anything, it’s won," she explained.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Yet, the actress realizes now that her cancer story did change her life in some ways, helping her become a more empathetic person. "When you've been through a really hard time you don't want somebody else to go through it," she told Cosmopolitan.
Acting also helped Park heal after beating cancer.
"Everything is taken away, and that is the most human thing that you can ever go through... I remember people, right after I was done being sick, said, ‘You should go to therapy,' [but] my therapy is theater," she told Playbill in 2016.
In Emily in Paris, Park plays Mindy, a Chinese heiress to her dad’s Zipper King fortune who has self-exiled to Paris to work as a nanny after embarrassing herself on the Chinese version of American Idol. Fortunately, a chance encounter leads her to strike up a conversation with Emily [Lily Collins], quickly taking the newcomer under her wing.
“We met at this part of our lives where we were ready to become the versions of ourselves we were always wanting to be,” Park told Cosmopolitan of her real-life friendship with Collins, adding that other cast members thought the duo were actually longtime friends.