Cobie Smulders on how cancer put things into perspective, and why she’s now sharing her story.


Canadian actress Cobie Smulders is best known for her starring role in the hit television series, How I Met Your Mother, but recently, is getting attention for a piece she wrote for Lenny Letter, where she shares her experience of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 25, during the show’s 3rd season. The piece is honest, emotional, and has already touched the lives of so many young women inspired to share their own stories. We talked to Cobie about her journey back to health, the importance of listening to your body, and the projects she’s looking forward to pursuing as she continues to evolve as an actress and mother.

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Phoebe De Croisset You grew up in Canada dreaming of studying marine biology. What changed your mind?

Cobie Smulders The superficial answer to that is I wanted to hang out with a cool group of actors and be cool myself. I had met a group of actors in Vancouver, and I really wanted to be friends with them, so I delayed a year of University to basically hang out and play. I had only done theatre up to this point, and it never occurred to me to pursue acting as a career. I always found it fulfilling, and a wonderful creative experience, but never imagined I would ever be hired – and paid! – to do it for a living.

PC At what point did you decide to make acting your career?

CS Ever since I was a kid I would pretend to be other people. Mostly in my head. I would create elaborate backstories for the strangers I saw in the street. I’ve always found people to be incredibly interesting. But it wasn’t until I discovered what life on set was like, and how much I loved being a part of it, that I decided to make it a career. You meet the most interesting people from all walks of life and you spend this intense amount of time together where you check out from your families and the world. There’s this bond that happens between people that’s wonderful. Also, the food is free.

PC Tell us about your first gig.

CS My first job was a guest star role on this bizarre show. It was an investigative drama but the officers were chasing magical beings, like leprechauns and genies. I was hired as a love interest for the lead character and I had never been on a television set before and had no idea how to behave or how things were done. I had to learn quickly. Also, the show was canceled in the middle of our episode so things on set were very tense.

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PC During the 3rd season of How I Met Your Mother you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You wrote about it for Lenny Letter all these years later – what made you decide to share what had been, up to that point, a very personal battle?

CS When you are diagnosed with this disease, there is no way of knowing what is going to happen to you. You are given a multitude of outcomes based on other people’s experiences, so you really don’t know how cancer is going to affect you personally – we’re all so different. I was going through this horrible moment in my life and because there was so much uncertainty, I didn’t want to surround myself with worry. When I knew that I was going to be ok, I was finally open to the possibility of helping others navigate their own journeys, to use myself and my experience to educate others. I have met many women who’ve been through similar health emergencies and I am so grateful that I wrote the Lenny Letter article, although it was terrifying, because I think it made some people wonder, “Well, if it happened to her, maybe it could happen to me.’ I really hope to bring some awareness about it, because opening up the dialogue allows us to learn from one another.

I find this time and age to be quite terrifying for women.

PC A diagnosis of this kind is devastating at any age – but you were only 25 when you learned you had cancer. What were your immediate concerns and how do you think those may or may not be different because of your age at diagnosis?

CS Well, I was very worried about my fertility. That was my main concern. I knew I wanted children, but did not plan on having them for a while. I had to face the question of being a mother and had to figure out if it was something that I truly wanted, way before I was ready to. I was told that I would not be able to have children naturally so I went through the process of IVF to freeze embryos to use when I did feel ready. It was a very surreal experience for me, but I was also very relieved that I had the option of having children. It turned out that I didn’t need medical help, but it provided me with much-needed peace of mind.

PC In your Lenny Letter article, you talk about understanding your body in a whole new way – and urging women to spend “as much time on the well-being of our insides as we do with our looks on the outside.” What do you mean by that?

CS What I mean is that women care a lot about how we are perceived physically. It’s almost like we all have a gene passed down from generation to generation urging us to ‘look your best.’ Presently, the focus is on social media and the manipulated version of yourself that you are putting out into the world. You can get so wrapped up in this portrayal of yourself that you are no longer checking in with your body and listening to how it is feeling.

PC You talk about your road to a cure by citing all the things (outside of the multiple surgeries) you did: raw diet, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, energy healing, and a plethora of others. How important was this exploration for you? Did it help you feel some sense of control over what was going on?

CS I always feel safe when I am in control. But sometimes life throws you a complete curve ball and you are sent spinning out. In those moments, I feel it is very important to hold on to what makes you feel good. It made me feel good to get educate myself on how my body works. To try and understand how cancer could flourish in my body. I tried a lot of different ways to get healthy again. Some of them worked and some did not. But all of them taught me more about my body. At the same time, there will always be things that are out of your control, and for those times, I also believe it is beneficial to go with the flow. Restricting its action or trying to change its course can lead to more problems.

PC You also mention you were “incredibly fortunate to have the means” to explore these options. When you think about the constant efforts by our current administration to do things like defund planned parenthood, what is your gut reaction?

CS I was and I am extremely fortunate. When I think about how other women in this country struggle with medical coverage, I am reminded just how lucky I am. It is insane to me that people are forced to be in the position where they cannot seek medical help – especially when dealing with cancer, when it so important to stay on top of screenings. Early detection is key. I find this time and age to be quite terrifying for women. I talk a lot about what it means to be a woman with my daughter, and I try to explain how it was in the past for us: not being able to vote, or get the type of job you wanted, that the person you married defined your identity, or the fact that women had to wear dresses all time! It seems crazy to her, which is so uplifting. But these days, and in this political madness, it seems like we have so much further to go.

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PC You’re cancer-free, healthy, a mother. All signs point upwards. Do you still struggle with the unknown? With fear?

CS I think that for me, I’ve discovered that time truly does heal all wounds. I am very grateful for this experience now. It has made me look at life differently, and I’ve shifted my priorities to what is important. My health, my family, my friends, and my work.

PC Last year, you starred in Present Laughter on Broadway. Performing on Broadway had been a longtime dream of yours. How did this project come about?

CS It was dream of mine to do a play on Broadway ever since I was a child. I had been so determined to be a part of a production, and was amazed I scored one of such high caliber. There is something about being your most vulnerable in front of a large group of people that only makes you a better performer. I was terrified, but usually when I am confronted but something scary I force myself to do it. I am always trying to get better at what I do, to improve and to learn. I knew that being on stage would be a huge challenge for me but at the same time extremely rewarding.

Opening up the dialogue allows us to learn from one another.

PC What were you looking forward to as you embraced the project? Was the experience everything you’d dreamed of? What was the best and worst part?

CS It was literally a dream. The cast was not only extremely supportive of each other but tremendously talented as well. The hard part for me was not being able to be there at night for my children.

PC What are you looking forward to in the next few years? Is theatre something you would like to pursue?

CS I would love to do more theatre. During these next few years I am really looking forward to planting roots back in the West Coast and producing projects that will not only challenge me, but can help others as well. We are now seeing more productions that are being told from a female point of view and I hope to be a part of the movement inspiring the next generation of women to use their voices and grab what they want.

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