The ‘How I Met Your Mother’ star opens up about surviving ovarian cancer, becoming a mother, and being grateful for the life she has.
by Kaylene Isherwood
Most known for playing Robin Sherbatzky on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Cobie Smulders is a woman who knows how to portray strong female characters. The Canadian actress who currently stars in the Netflix original comedy series Friends from College also has a recurring role as level-headed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in several Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home. Much like the characters she plays, Cobie has shown tremendous strength off-screen as well.
A shocking diagnosis
In 2008, during the third season of HIMYM (as fans like to refer to the show that made her a star), Cobie received some shocking news – she had ovarian cancer. She was only 25 years old and had no family history of the disease.
Being a mother has always been a very important thing for me. And to be faced with the possibility of that not happening at age 25, it was very hard.
“Ovarian cancer wasn’t at all in the forefront of my mind or a health concern at all,” Cobie shares in a recent interview with Coping magazine. She says she had been feeling lethargic, and was experiencing a constant sensation of pressure on her abdomen, so she decided to see her doctor for a check-up. Everything seemed fine at the time. However, a couple months later, an ultrasound revealed a sizable tumor growing on one of her ovaries.
“I remember so vividly when I got my diagnosis,” Cobie says. “I’m a very proactive person, slightly stubborn. Not slightly, very stubborn. And I immediately was like, OK what am I going to do?”
So the actress changed her diet, eating mostly raw foods and cutting out cheese and carbohydrates. She also started meditating, doing yoga, getting acupuncture, and visiting therapists, dietitians, and other complementary medicine specialists.
For treatment, Cobie underwent several surgeries over two years to remove cancerous tumors from both of her ovaries. In the end, she says, she was left with one-third of one ovary and was told that conceiving children might not happen for her.
“Being a mother has always been a very important thing for me,” Cobie reveals. “And to be faced with the possibility of that not happening at age 25, it was very hard. It was something I had to grapple with a lot.”
A new focus on gratitude
Within a year of her final surgery, Cobie and her now-husband, Saturday Night Live star Taran Killam, got some exciting news. She was pregnant with their first child, Shaelyn, who was born in 2009. And five years later, Cobie became pregnant a second time with another girl, Joelle.
“I ended up keeping a third of one of my ovaries, and through that, was able to have two children naturally. Which, when I say that out loud, I can’t even believe that happened,” Cobie confesses. “When I was able to have kids, that was everything. And it still is everything.”
As she opens up more about her journey from ovarian cancer to miraculous motherhood, a theme of gratitude emerges. “I was extremely, extremely lucky due to having amazing doctors and amazing family support,” Cobie shares. “I’m constantly in a state of gratitude now. It’s a very happy, healthy way to live your life, and I try to do that every day.”
Seven years after her diagnosis, Cobie decided to go public with her ovarian cancer survival story in the May 2015 issue of Women’s Health magazine. Then, in November 2016, she penned an article titled “Showing My Scars” for LennyLetter.com. In it, Cobie had this to say about her body’s journey through ovarian cancer and back: “It has taken a lot of patience with myself to get to where I am today. I am learning that in life it is OK to travel in darkness, not knowing what your next move is. I don’t allow the stress of the unknown to affect my health, and I listen to my body when it sends me distress signals.”
I’m constantly in a state of gratitude now. It’s a very happy, healthy way to live your life, and I try to do that every day.
A commitment to raising awareness and empowering survivors
For more than 10 years, Cobie has been in remission from cancer. And now, she’s set her sights on spreading ovarian cancer awareness and empowering other women to take charge of their health.
“I’m a big believer that knowledge is power,” Cobie asserts. “And you should be going out and seeing about everything that you can do to make yourself better.” Because of this belief, Cobie recently partnered with biopharmaceutical company TESARO for their Not on My Watch campaign, a national movement to empower women with recurrent ovarian cancer.
“Like many women who have lived through an ovarian cancer diagnosis, I understand the constant fear that comes in between doctors’ visits around the prospect of the cancer coming back,” Cobie explains. “I am fortunate my cancer hasn’t recurred – but sadly this is not the norm, as many will see the disease return. That’s why I’ve been inspired to join the Not on My Watch movement, to help women with recurrent ovarian cancer understand they have choices when it comes to managing their disease – they no longer need to ‘watch and wait’ for a recurrence.
“I hope through this campaign, first of all, that women feel like they’re not alone. That there are women who have gone through this. That there are women who have survived. And that you can learn from these experiences.”
A look ahead
When asked what’s in the future for her, Cobie replies, “I’m really excited to be getting involved in the cancer community more. In a weird way, it benefits me to talk about it, to help others in any way that I can. And in my life, personally, to be a good mom, to be a good human being. And, professionally, to just keep doing projects that are exciting and that people enjoy watching.”
Before we end our conversation, Cobie leaves this final bit of advice for fellow cancer survivors who have just been diagnosed: “It’s important to get all of the information you can. It’s also important to breathe, to mediate, to keep it calm, to keep the stress out of your life, and to look at your life and re-evaluate and see how you can make it more positive.”
Not on My Watch is a nationwide movement led by biopharmaceutical company TESARO to raise awareness about recurrent ovarian cancer and empower women to take proactive steps in managing the disease. Additionally, for each social share of the PSA on Not on My Watch’s website or social media channels, TESARO is donating $5 to ovarian cancer patient organizations. The company’s goal is to reach $222,000 to acknowledge each of the 222,000 women affected by ovarian cancer in the United States.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2018.