Despite Kathy Bates‘ success in Hollywood — including three Oscar nominations and one win — she was “warned” years ago that disclosing her cancer diagnosis at the time could negatively impact the future of her distinguished career.
“Back in 2003, when I had ovarian cancer, my agent told me not to tell anyone about it,” Bates, 69, told WebMD. “Even my gynaecologist, whose husband worked in the business, warned that I shouldn’t come out with it because of the stigma in Hollywood. So I was very careful.”
She spent years keeping her health news under the radar, until she came across someone who inspired her to live freely.
“But then I saw Melissa Etheridge doing a concert and just wailing on her guitar with her bald head, and I thought, ‘Wow, I wanna be her!’ So, when the breast cancer diagnosis came, I knew I wanted to be honest about it,” she said.
Since her double mastectomy, Bates has made the decision to forego reconstructive surgery. She has no breasts, and she plans to keep it that way.
“I’ve joined the ranks of women who are going flat, as they say,” she said, “I don’t have breasts — so why do I have to pretend like I do? That stuff isn’t important. I’m just grateful to have been born at a time when the research made it possible for me to survive. I feel so incredibly lucky to be alive.”
This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.