Kristin Chenoweth and Terrell Davis have battled debilitating migraines for most of their lives. Opening up to PEOPLE, the two share about how they cope

By Brianne Tracy
March 25, 2019 04:30 PM
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Kevin Winter/Getty Images; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

At first glance, it seems that Kristin Chenoweth and Terrell Davis couldn’t be more different — one is a petite 4’11” Emmy and Tony-winning powerhouse and the other is a towering 6’0″ National Football League Hall of Famer.

But at the Migraine World Summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday, it was clear the two had a lot in common. After sharing their at the event, they instantly bonded over their experiences with battling migraine headaches.

“Listening to Terrell talk, I thought, ‘Boy, do I understand what he means,’ ” Chenoweth, 50, told PEOPLE. “I was so relieved to know that I was in such good company. Here’s a man who won all of these Super Bowls — and he’s a migraine person? It does give you comfort to know that you have somebody that understands.”

When she was 25 years old, Chenoweth experienced her first migraine while rehearsing for a show in a room with fluorescent lights in New York.

“I started getting what I call ‘kaleidoscope eyes,’ ” Chenoweth said during her presentation to the crowd. “Then, I started getting really nauseous and a pounding headache.”

Four months after her first migraine, Chenoweth was diagnosed. Though she admits migraines have caused her “to lose some time” in her life, dealing with them now has become easier as she has learned what triggers her.

“[Doctors] told me to avoid sugar and caffeine,” she said. “The past two years, I really have cut way, way back in that department and I have noticed a difference. The dragon that I keep chasing is sleep. I’m always in a different time zone or on a plane. None of these things are conducive to a person who has a migraine. That’s been my biggest challenge, sleep.”

On top of avoiding sugar and caffeine, Chenoweth says her faith helps.

“Everybody has their own belief, and I encourage and want that,” she said. “I do take pause and I say, ‘Dear God, help me get through this.’ ”

Kristin Chenoweth
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

While Chenoweth’s migraines started a little later in life, Davis got his first migraine when he was only 9 years old. After finishing football practice, he realized he was having trouble seeing.

“It was staring into the sun and then trying to focus on something,” he explained during the event. “I remember my heart started pounding because I thought, at the time, I was going to go blind.”

Davis’ mom picked him up from practice and as soon as he got home, he started getting a pounding headache.

That headache was so different than any headache I’ve ever had at the time,” he said. “It was so debilitating, so intense. I didn’t know what had happened at the time or if we would come back or if that was a one time deal.”

The pain at the time was so bad that Davis, 46, remembers having suicidal thoughts.

“I didn’t want to live through that period,” he said. “Suicide crossed my mind. I didn’t plan it but the only thing I could think of was just ending it. That was my first experience and, subsequently, after that it came back a few weeks later. Sometimes it was weekly, sometimes it was two times a week, three times a week. It was tough to deal with.”

It took a while for Davis to be officially diagnosed, but he eventually figured out how to take steps to prevent attacks.

“The doctor was asking about when these reoccurring attacks happened, and maybe it was ironic but they would always happen either after practice or during practice,” he said. “He added it up and told my mom, ‘He probably doesn’t need to play football because obviously there’s a connection to him playing football and having these occur.’ I didn’t like hearing that too much because I love football. I wasn’t connecting those dots because there was a few times I was sitting in class looking at the chalkboard and all of a sudden, bam, one is triggered. So in my mind, it wasn’t just football and there were other things. If it wasn’t just football that was causing these, then I didn’t want to remove football. I just decided to play.”

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Davis indeed continued playing football despite his migraines. In 1997, he famously played with a migraine during Super Bowl XXXII when his team, the Broncos, took home the championship title.

“I said, ‘I don’t care how I’m feeling right now. I’m going to fight and do what I have to do because we’re not promised to be here again,’ ” he said. “I didn’t want to live with the regret if I left the game.”

Davis told PEOPLE that he hasn’t had a migraine in the past year.

“Over the years, we started to dial things in and tried to really hone in and we started to be really efficient in how we dealt with this thing,” he said.

The Migraine World Summit — which hosts daily talks with physicians and migraine research experts from around the world — is currently happening online through March 28.