It’s been more than a decade since Cobie Smulders was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and although she has recovered, it’s not something she’s going to forget about anytime soon.
“It will be with me for the rest of my life,” Smulders told SheKnows. “It’ll always be in my brain, but hopefully, never again my body. But I think that it’s something I will always think of and always be on top of because of my history.”
Smulders was diagnosed at the age of 25 while she was in the middle of shooting the hit CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. She started feeling pressure in her lower abdomen, but her doctor told her that everything looked fine. A few months later, she was feeling even more pressure in the area and had developed a lump that was visible when she was lying down. She was in the middle of filming a movie, so she went to a local clinic and asked for an ultrasound. They instructed her to see her doctor right away — which she did — immediately followed by an oncologist.
Smulders also revealed what she thinks ultimately saved her life: “I think generally, it’s really important for women to have a mind-body connection. I think that’s really what saved me.” She listened to her body when something didn’t feel right and sought the medical attention she needed right away.
The whole thing happened quickly, she explained, because she needed to start treatment right away.
“Luckily, in my case, I had tumors that were removed and was able to just deal with my cancer surgically and not have to do any chemotherapy,” Smulders said. “Luckily, I was able to keep slicing [the tumors] out of my body until [the cancer] stopped.”
And given that she was able to surgically treat the ovarian cancer — meaning she didn’t have visible signs she was going through treatment, like when people lose their hair after having chemotherapy — Smulders was able to decide when and how to tell people about it.
She kept working throughout her treatment, noting that she wanted to make sure she still had health insurance. “If I’m not working, I don’t know what the future is going to be,” Smulders explained. “This might be my last job, my last show, this might be it.”
Fortunately, she says everyone at How I Met Your Mother was very accommodating and understanding, and she received her diagnosis and had her first surgery during the writers strike, so she was able to use the time offset to deal with the ovarian cancer.
“I didn’t have to be out [of work]. It was weird,” she said. “My life is very kismet like that; when things happen, the universe allows me to have the time to deal with it. So that worked out nicely.”
When she was diagnosed at 25, Smulders says she spoke extensively with her doctors about her future fertility. In fact, she opted not to have any radiation treatment because she wanted to have children.
“There was a conversation about doing embryo storage, and quite frankly, we got pregnant almost immediately, so it wasn’t really something that I had to deal with, but there was many, many conversations about it,” she said. “I’m very glad that I didn’t have to go through IVF to have a child, but it was very comforting to know that I could, that [it] was available to me.”
Though she didn’t deal with fertility issues herself, Smulders said she has friends who are going through it now. Also, on the Netflix show Friends from College, she plays Lisa Turner, a woman who is trying to treat infertility. Smulders said her character’s infertility storyline continues in the show’s second season, which premieres on January 11, 2019.
And whether it’s fertility or ovarian cancer or any other health issue, Smulders wants people to have the access to the information they need to be empowered. That’s why she has partnered with Tesaro for their Not on My Watch campaign, which encourages people to take an informed, proactive approach to their health — especially when it comes to ovarian cancer. She has directed and features in a new public-service announcement, which focuses on empowering the ovarian cancer community — especially the 85 percent with recurring ovarian cancer — to access the resources they need in order to have informed conversations with their doctors.
For every share the PSA gets on social media, Tesaro will donate $5 to ovarian cancer patient organizations for patient education and support programs.
“I would love for women to be more proactive with their treatment,” Smulders said. “Our whole campaign is how I’m not going to sit around and watch and wait for someone to tell me what to do next. It’s about taking charge of your own body, your own medical decisions, making sure that you’re as informed as possible, that you have all the treatment options available to you.”
In fact, she noted that in the 10 years since her diagnosis, there have been great strides made in treatments for ovarian cancer.
And although she hopes other people will benefit from hearing her story, Smulders said she also found talking to other women who have survived ovarian cancer to be very cathartic, adding that it gave her hope for her own future health.
“For me personally, it’s also to know that you’re not alone,” she said. “That there are people who have gone through this and there are people like me who have had these experiences and there are people who are willing to help and willing to provide knowledge of their own experience.”