Julia Louis-Dreyfus Reflects on Her Cancer Experience, How It Changed Her and Why She 'Can't Wait to Be 83' (2024)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is opening up about the moment she learned she had breast cancer.

In a wide-ranging conversation with journalist David Remnick at the 2023 New Yorker Festival on Friday, the Veep star, 62, recounted getting the difficult call from her doctors in 2017 and how her immediate reaction was not a typical one.

"I started laughing. Well, because the night before, I had won an Emmy. And so, I came downstairs and … the Emmy was there. It was like on the dining room table. I'm coming down to get coffee. My cell phone rings, and it's my doctor saying, 'Guess what, you have cancer,' " she recalled.

"And I'm like, 'Huh? What?' And so, it was a very bizarre juxtaposition," she continued. "And, of course, I did laugh, and then I became hysterical, crying, because I was terrified, as most people are, or as all people are if they get a diagnosis like that."

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She said she was fortunate to have her family rally around her as she began to navigate the unknown. "I have a very strong and supportive family, and for which I am eternally grateful, upon whom I relied — sisters, husband, my sons, my mother, my mothers, my stepmother, everybody," she said.

Still, she continued, "I was deeply terrified because who wouldn't be? I mean, all the tropes are true. You know, you get that call and it's like, 'What, me? No, no, no.' I mean, you can't imagine that something like that would happen to you."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Reflects on Her Cancer Experience, How It Changed Her and Why She 'Can't Wait to Be 83' (1)

To get through her grueling chemotherapy sessions, Louis-Dreyfus told Remnick she focused on a memory of a particularly unnerving moment from her past to motivate her.

"I've said it before, but many, many years ago, I was on a boat with my husband. I was swimming in the water. He came to the bow of the boat and he said, 'Jules, I don't want you to panic, but there's a shark in the water, so you need to come back.' And I was far away from the boat," she explained.

"And so, I just saw the ladder and I started swimming towards it, and I made the decision not to look around me at all. I was just going to stay looking at the ladder. And that very much applied to how I got through my cancer adventure — was sort of looking at the ladder. Just let's get this done, let's get there."

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Now that she's on the other side of her cancer journey — she announced she was cancer-free in October 2018 following a double mastectomy and six rounds of chemo — the actress said she has an entirely new perspective on life.

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"I'm just so happy to be here, you know. I think I'm enjoying things more," she told the festival audience. "I think I work hard now to try not to allow my stress to enter my body if I can do it. That’s a difficult nut to crack, you know, for sure, because we're all stressed. But it does have an impact."

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"I'm not saying I got cancer from stress, necessarily, but it's not good for you. And it's also not a happy place to live in," she added. "So, I'm just very focused on … trying to enjoy my life as much as possible."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Reflects on Her Cancer Experience, How It Changed Her and Why She 'Can't Wait to Be 83' (2)

The Seinfeld star also reflected on getting older and how the passing years have brought her wisdom.

"As you age, you just get deeper rooted. You get to know yourself and and your world and the world, I hope, better than you knew it when you were 17," she noted. "I have a bigger sense of community and responsibility to others that I certainly didn't have in the same way at the age of 17 when I was just thinking about me, me, me, me, me."

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Though she's only just entered her 60s, Louis-Dreyfus said she looks forward to being an octogenarian and the freedom she hopes it will bring.

"I had this one conversation with the wonderful writer Isabel Allende, and she is so stoked to be, I believe she's 82 or 83, and the way she was talking about it, she's let go of so much," she recounted. "She just does whatever the hell she wants. She is completely unburdened in a way that she was not when she was younger, and she went on and on."

"And I said to her, 'Isabel, I can't wait to be 83.' I mean, for real," she added.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Reflects on Her Cancer Experience, How It Changed Her and Why She 'Can't Wait to Be 83' (2024)
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