Despite a devastating 2009, ER's Maura Tierney says she never lost hope that things would get better. In June of last year -- just as the actress was set to appear on NBC's Parenthood -- she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Parade. "I had insurance, I found a great team of doctors at UCLA, and I could afford not to work while I was getting treated. From the beginning my doctor told me, 'You're going to be okay,' and I chose to believe him."
That's not to say the actress, 45, didn't experience some initial shock when she first discovered a lump on her breast.
"I was so, so scared of going to the doctor. I felt something, and my boyfriend at the time made me go," she says. "He said, 'You've got to take care of this,' because I was afraid. That's the one thing I will say: Don't be afraid to go to the damn doctor. Just go!"
Putting on a brave face, Tierney underwent surgery in the summer of 2009. Unfortunately, the final pathology report brought some shocking news.
"It turned out to be a more aggressive kind of cancer than they thought," she recalls. Tierney says while her doctors remained optimistic, had this happened a decade earlier, pathologists wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. "He said they would have patted me on the head and told me, 'You're cured,' and I would have died of breast cancer."
To make matters worse, as Tierney was undergoing chemotherapy, her father Joseph was also battling cancer. Before he died in December 2009, Tierney's pal Julie Bean says the actress didn't want to speak of her sickness with her father.
"It's that Irish Catholic in both of them: quietly feeling bad for the other person when
you're going through your own hell, not talking about it, just keeping it in," Bean says. "It must have been the hardest time of her life -- but she still maintained her core and her sense of humor. And God bless her, she had to go bald to her dad's funeral."
Currently in remission, the actress is about to make her television comeback as a prosecutor in The Whole Truth. Though Tierney says she feels "an immense sense of gratitude" since beating the disease, she admits that it also taught some tough life lessons.
"There is one thing I've learned for sure. It's a life-changing thing to be in a position of needing help and being so lucky as to get it. And to feel like that's okay," she says. "You can't just take care of everybody else all the time. That's almost as perspective-changing as the illness. For someone like me, that was kind of tough."