She’s played scary characters on screens both large and small, but Kathy Bates never knew what fear truly felt like until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003. “I remember shaking for hours that day,” she recalled. “I withdrew and didn’t do anything — jobs, social events or anything else.”

The 70-year-old actress beat the disease with chemotherapy, but her nightmare recurred in 2012 when Kathy contracted breast cancer. She opted to have a double mastectomy because of her family’s extensive history with cancer. Now she’s free of the disease and unafraid to speak out about her experience in order to help others in similar predicaments.

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“If I had to go through it again, I wouldn’t be so private,” Kathy, who hid the health condition for years, said. “Being at different cancer functions since then and seeing women with bald heads, brave enough to be there and be themselves, was very moving to me.”

The ordeal has changed Kathy in many ways. “I’ve become less of a hermit, and I travel more,” she said. “I really enjoy every moment of my life now.” Still, she maintains a healthy perspective. “It’s not that every moment is terrific — we all go through tough times — but I try to be more present and grateful for the good times I have.” Luckily, Kathy can call on a strong support system. “I have a very close group of friends and family, and we all help each other through our darkest times,” she said.

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Work also helped keep her sane. “Acting is my life force,” Kathy, who co-stars in the upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex, said. “Lynn Redgrave, God rest her soul, at the time was dealing with cancer, and she said, ‘Go back to work because you can be somebody who doesn’t have cancer.’”

Kathy’s advice to her fellow women? Get regular checkups. “Quit taking the damn selfies and worrying about what you look like,” she said. “Instead, keep everything working and in good order.”

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