7th Heaven Alum and Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor Barry Watson
Reflects on More Than a Decade of Survivorship
by Jessica Webb Errickson
Barry Watson has enjoyed a long and successful television career, having starred opposite Christina Applegate in ABC’s Samantha Who? and playing a recurring role in the final season of the popular CW series Gossip Girl. He’s shown off his acting chops in movies of all genres as well, including Teaching Ms. Tingle, Boogeyman, and most recently, UP TV’s original movie Far From Home. But the role Barry is probably most known for is that of Matt Camden, the eldest of the Camden clan on the now-syndicated hit series 7th Heaven.
Barry landed the role that launched him into household-name territory in 1996, but by 2002, as his contract with the long-running family drama was nearing its expiration, the 28-year-old actor was contemplating his next career move. He wouldn’t see it coming, but that same year, a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma would force him to push his acting career aside in order to focus on his health. Now, after more than a decade of remission, Barry reflects on his cancer journey and how it feels to have snagged the role of a lifetime – survivor.
Barry got the first hint that all was not well while visiting New York to promote his film Sorority Boys. “I just remember being so tired,” he recalls in an interview with Coping magazine. “I was kind of certain that something was going on with my body.”
A couple of months later, Barry discovered a lump in his neck, leading him to see a doctor to identify exactly what was causing his symptoms. He was soon diagnosed with stage IIB Hodgkin lymphoma.
Without hesitation, he found an oncologist with an optimistic approach and dove headfirst into treatment, which consisted of chemotherapy every two weeks for six months. “I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to get the cancer out of my body,” Barry asserts.
As the chemotherapy took its physical toll, Barry kept his spirits high, drawing inspiration from a fellow cancer survivor he met at his first treatment.
I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to get the cancer out of my body.
“I was really nervous, and I was really scared, but I was sitting next to this guy who had the best attitude out of everybody else in the room. He was making me laugh, and he made me feel really relaxed,” Barry shares. “Every time I went in for treatment after that, as much as it was a drag and it sucked and it hurt, I just tried to have a really good attitude and, hopefully, express that attitude to other people around me.”
Though he wasn’t feeling up for taking on any acting roles, Barry kept busy by accepting a behind-the-scenes job as part of 7th Heaven’s writing staff. “I didn’t think I was going to feel like it – and I didn’t half the time,” Barry concedes, “but having that normalcy was really good for me.”
Barry maintained a positive attitude as he fought to get back to the life he knew before cancer, and just three months into treatment, his doctors told him that the chemo was working even better than anticipated. In fact, they could no longer see any signs of cancer. “That news really made the last three months of chemotherapy a lot easier,” he says.
Barry completed his last treatment in October 2002, and he has been cancer-free since. With more than a decade of survivorship under his belt, Barry’s sunny outlook on life is brighter than ever.
“I don’t worry about the little things so much anymore,” Barry says of his post-cancer life. “Especially now that I have kids – my kids have really changed everything for me.”
Having chosen not to bank his sperm before treatment, there was a point in Barry’s life when he didn’t know if having children would ever be in the cards for him. That is, until his oldest son, Oliver, came along, followed by Felix, and most recently, his daughter, Clover Clementyne.
“I try not to let the stupid little things take away from the beautiful things that I have going on in my life – [my partner] Natasha, my kids,” he continues. “I see life a little brighter than I used to. Every color is a little more vibrant.”
Looking back on his journey as a whole, Barry says he wouldn’t change a thing. “I wish I didn’t have to go through it,” he clarifies, “But there’s a big part of me that’s glad that I went through this experience because it’s made me who I am now, which is, hopefully, a better human being, a better dad, maybe even a better actor.”
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2014.