Kathryn Joosten Brings the Reality of Cancer to The Bold and the Beautiful
Cancer survivor Kathryn Joosten is taking her real-life drama to a daytime soap. The veteran actress, a two-time Emmy winner as feisty Karen McCluskey on Desperate Housewives, will appear as herself on the 6000th episode of The Bold and the Beautiful (airing February 7). The show's matriarch Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery) is currently battling lung cancer, which Joosten has kicked twice — in 2001 and 2009. The anniversary plot finds Stephanie going online to try to form a lung-cancer support group. Joosten decides to join up, as do several other real-life lung-cancer survivors who will also appear in the episode. TV Guide Magazine spoke with Joosten about her very Bold guest stint.
TV Guide Magazine: Sight unseen, this sounds like great and valuable TV! Talk about the decision to play yourself, rather than playing a character who has cancer.
Joosten: I don't think it would have been as successful if I'd played somebody else. I've been very open about my experiences with lung cancer — no big secret there — and the show is set in Los Angeles, so it made sense to do it this way. It was easy playing myself because I'm so familiar with the subject matter and so passionate about lung-cancer advocacy. Susan and I have some great scenes together, discussing the disease very realistically. We get to talking about the fear of death and how it feels when you wake up in the morning and think, "I may die from this." We talked about so many things — the depression and the anxiety and the importance of getting into therapy. It got a little heavy at times, and I'm sure they're not going to use all of it, but it's still an incredible opportunity to talk about stuff you don't hear on TV.
TV Guide Magazine: Didn't your Desperate Housewives character get cancer?
Joosten: We did one little bit of it where Karen announced she had lung cancer. Then, by the next episode, she'd already had it treated and was out of the hospital.
TV Guide Magazine: That's often the way the daytime soaps handle this stuff — now you see it, now you don't. But B&B has really proven its commitment to following Stephanie's story.
Joosten: There's a real stigma attached to all this. Lung cancer today is thought of like AIDS was in the '80s — it's considered the disease you gave yourself. Basically the public is saying, "You did it to yourself. You're not gonna live. So what do you want us to do about it?" People only got serious about AIDS when it shifted to the heterosexual population. But B&B is really getting the truth out there — they're actually listening to what cancer patients have to say — and that's thrilling. And this is a very successful soap around the world so the potential here is huge.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you link up with the show?
Joosten: [Executive producer] Brad Bell called me because he was having trouble finding stage IV lung cancer survivors in L.A. — he couldn't find a support group! And it's true. There isn't one! When I was being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A., they had a support group that met once a month for stage I cancer patients only. That was it.
TV Guide Magazine: Wow. And that's L.A., where you'd think everything's available. I imagine the situation is even worse out in real America.
Joosten: It is, and if you want to form your own group you can't just call a hospital and say, "Give me the names of your cancer patients." That's why Stephanie uses the internet.
TV Guide Magazine: What did you do when you needed support?
Joosten: I got myself a therapist who had a lot of experience with people with cancer, and had studied with Kubler-Ross. That was enormously helpful to me. I'm a big fan of therapy.
TV Guide Magazine: What kind of insight do you bring to Stephanie? Does this mean we'll see you on B&B on a recurring basis?
Joosten: I do agree to join the group, though I'm really not sure what that means as far as [future appearances]. I would love to go back. I do tell Stephanie that somewhere along the line she's going to need to have a professional run the group because, frankly, in the course of events some members are going to die and we'll all have to deal with that. That reality is not easy for group members to face.
TV Guide Magazine: Jack Wagner's character, Nick, is also part of this. How does he fit in?
Joosten: Nick has a spot on his lung — he thinks it's scar tissue and I tell him he's in denial. When I had cancer the second time, my doctor saw something on my lung and said it was probably a scar but checked it anyway, and it's a good thing. I tell Nick he needs to get himself tested. He's in total denial, you know? That's why this is all so phenomenal — we got to have real, plain-talking open conversations. Off-camera, too! I was talking to one of the cancer patients who's going to be on the show. She was diagnosed with stage IV but wasn't taking antidepressants. She said, "I'm going to just tough it through." I said, "Why on earth would you do that?"
TV Guide Magazine: Again, the denial.
Joosten: Exactly! And listen to this! One of the guys on the B&B tech crew told me that six of his relatives have died from lung cancer. I said, "Really? When did you last have your chest X-rayed?" Well, he's never been X-rayed! So here's someone working on a show that's getting out the message and he's hearing it but still not doing anything about it. Another lady at the show told me her doctor said she didn't need a chest X-ray because she'd never smoked. It's crazy. The largest number of new cancers happen to women between 40 and 65. It's rampant, and the numbers are climbing. That why I hope there will be a whole lot of PR done on this B&B episode. Hey, can I ask you something?
TV Guide Magazine: Of course.
Joosten: Because I didn't have the guts to ask this when I was at the show. What are they going to do with Stephanie? You can live with stage IV for two or three years, but not a whole lot longer.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, Flannery has talked about possibly retiring. Maybe this is setting the stage for that. Let's just hope they don't go for that old soap-opera chestnut — the miracle cure! That would be a cheat.
Joosten: If they do, I will be all over them!
TV Guide Magazine: Then again, it's a soap so they can always play with time. They can slow it down. Hell, you're from Wisteria Lane. You guys zipped ahead five years! By the way, aren't you safe on Housewives anyway? I once interviewed Marc Cherry and he told me he'd promised you that he'll never kill off your character. True?
Joosten: Absolutely. I was killed off on The West Wing, and then again on Scrubs I even got killed off on General Hospital. I said to Marc, "I will do your show but don't kill me!" And he made me that promise. He's a man of his word. [Laughs] And I bet he's sorry now!
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