Only hours after she stood on a stage accepting her 11th Primetime Emmy, smashing previous records with six wins for a single role, Julia Louis-Dreyfus received a phone call and learned that she had cancer.
Hearing the soul-crushing news, the star of Seinfeld said she was “to my bones terrified,” but reacted in a way that no one would expect, not even from a comedian.
On September 16, 2017, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of Veep, graciously accepted her Emmy, beating out nominees like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie), Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish).
“We have a great final season that we are about to start filming with a lot of surprises…This is and it continues to be the role of a lifetime and an adventure of utter joy,” she said in her acceptance speech, excited to film the next season of her hit show, Veep.
The next morning, Louis-Dreyfus, now 62, had a call, learning that the results from a breast lump biopsy had come in, and that she was confirmed positive with stage 2 breast cancer.
“It was completely out of the blue that I got this diagnosis and it happened, believe it or not… on the heels of getting an Emmy. Within 10 hours,” she shared with David Letterman on his Netflix show, My Guest Needs No Introduction. “I very happily won that night and then the next morning the phone rang saying, you know, ‘I’ve got bad news, you have cancer.”
Explaining her unorthodox response, The New Adventures of Old Christine star said, “Not that it’s funny, but it is funny juxtaposition-wise. It’s kind of unbelievable. And I did start sort of laughing hysterically like a crazy person, and then it morphed into something else of course.”
Once the shock settled, Louis-Dreyfus said reality, along with fear set in. Speaking with The New Yorker, the star of Seinfeld explained her thoughts, “‘am I gonna be dead tomorrow’ kind of thing? I didn’t let myself go there…Don’t misunderstand: I was to-my-bones terrified. But I didn’t let myself—except for a couple of moments—go to a really dark place. I didn’t allow it.”
Ten days after her diagnosis, Louis-Dreyfus announced to the world that “1 in 8 women get cancer. Today I am the one.” In a photo capturing a letter she wrote, Louis-Dreyfus said, “The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let’s fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality.”
Her decision to go public was driven by her awareness of the high costs connected with treatment, that are unaffordable for people without insurance, and also because filming the seventh and final season of Veep was postponed, allowing Louis-Dreyfus’ recovery time. (HBO’s Veep wrapped up filming in December 2018).
“Frankly, I would never have made this a public journey, but I kind of had to given the circumstances because our show had to shut down for a period of time,” she said, also bringing up the importance of helping others. “I think I reached a lot of people. I was able to raise a lot of money for women who have had mastectomies, who need reconstruction but insurance doesn’t cover that, and I was really happy to be able to do that. The outpouring of support was quite overwhelming.”
Fans praised her courage and shared their own stories. One wrote, “Today, i am the one. You have always been my hero and now more than ever you will be one of my inspirations,” while another, who diagnosed two days before Louis-Dreyfus, said, I was diagnosed on September 15th. You’re my inspiration! F*** cancer!!!”
About one year later, after a double mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy, Louis-Dreyfus announced that she was cancer-free.
But she couldn’t have done it with her family and friends, who created an environment for recovery that was filled with love and laughter.
“The old cliché about laughter being the best medicine turns out to be true: when I was getting my hideous chemotherapy, I’d cram a bunch of friends and family into the tiny treatment room with me…We really did have some great laughs. Of course, I was heavily medicated and slipping in and out of consciousness, so I was a pretty easy audience.” She continued, “My point is that laughter is a basic human need along with… love, and an HBO subscription.”
Veep castmates, Tony Hale and Timothy Simons recorded a hilarious video, lip-syncing to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” using signs that read, “you are a champion,” and “we’re going to hear you roar.”
“How lucky am I that these bozos have my back? What a moving inspiration to my day. I’ve watched it a gazillion times,” Louis-Dreyfus wrote on her Instagram.
Her 62-year-old husband Brad Hall, whom she married in 1987, and her two sons Henry, 30, and Charlie, 25, never left her side.
“It was like they had their hands underneath me holding me up,” she said in an interview with People. “I think whenever a family goes through a crisis and comes out the other end, you’re bound to have an intimacy that, perhaps, wasn’t quite there like it was before. I mean, we were very close before, but I know how precious life is.”
Lastly, the actor shared, “I got diagnosed with cancer, and I powered through it, and I came out the other side,” shares Louis-Dreyfus. “I’m grateful for all of it.”
Thank you to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for sharing her journey with world, and bringing hope to others diagnosed with cancer. And, as her Veep co-stars suggested, we heard her roar!
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