Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates felt pressured to stay silent when she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but now she’s speaking out for women everywhere.

Her close friend urged her to visit the doctor, and if she hadn’t, she may not be here today.

“She saved my life,” says the American Horror Story star. She had been feeling flushed and tired, but thought it was due to work. “It would have been easy for me to write off all of those things if she hadn’t been there.”

From tragedy to inspiration

Despite testing negative for BRCA 1&2, Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer nine years after surviving ovarian cancer.

“I want women to know that a test is not a get out of jail free card,” she says. “ I was less vigilant. I really wished I had caught it earlier.”

“When I got breast cancer, I was inspired by women who go out with bald heads.” She believes each appearance or opportunity can remind women to pay attention to their bodies. “I would urge women to make that part of their regular checkups, as well as breast self-exams.”

Her next role

Bates also became an ambassador for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network (LE&RN). Lymphedema can affect up to 30 percent of breast cancer survivors. “The challenge is getting the word out,” she says. Bates feels lucky to have a less severe case of lymphedema, and hopes speaking about LE will help educate the public and physicians. “I’m grateful my hardships have given me a purpose. Funny how that happens.”