How Facing Breast Cancer Changed Her Perception of Beauty
by Ashley Hubbard
At age 16, the stunningly beautiful Kym Douglas scored an internship at her local television station, WJBK in Southfield, MI. From the very beginning, she was hooked. She later went on to anchor the evening news for WLUC in Marquette, MI, and followed that up with a two-year stint performing with famed improv comedy troupe The Second City in Hollywood. In the past decade, you’ve probably seen Kym sharing lifestyle and beauty tips on shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Hallmark’s Home & Family.
With her quirky sense of humor setting her apart from the crowd, Kym has been the go-to expert for all the latest beauty trends. However, she admits that her perception of beauty has recently undergone a metamorphosis. The catalyst? Breast cancer.
From best-case to worst-case scenario
In 2018, Kym went in for a routine mammogram – something Kym is the first to admit she had skipped the previous three years because she “was just so busy.” Regardless, she had no reason to suspect anything.
“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t do drugs,” Kym shares in a recent interview with Coping® magazine. “I drink a lot of green juice, and I’m active. I was actually on a walk when I got the call from the mammogram center.”
Follow-up tests and a biopsy revealed Kym had ductal carcinoma in situ, or stage 0 breast cancer. The news came as a shock. However, Kym found relief in the fact that it was caught at an early stage.
“It’s bad; it’s cancer,” Kym remembers telling herself. “And while I was horrified, I was still thinking, It’s stage 0. There’s four stages, and I’m 0.”
Kym opted for a bilateral mastectomy due to how the cancer was presenting. Though it appeared to be confined to one breast, Kym says the cancer looked like sprinkles all over her breast. And, while removing both breasts was a radical approach, Kym says she didn’t want to risk the cancer spreading. This unorthodox decision may have saved her life.
Toward the end of the surgery, Kym’s doctors – an all-female surgical team whom Kym dubbed “power babes extraordinaire” – found three previously undetected tumors against her chest wall. In less than an hour, Kym had gone from stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ to stage III breast cancer.
With this new diagnosis came a more aggressive treatment approach. Kym would need to undergo 18 and a half weeks of chemotherapy, followed by more than seven weeks of radiation, in addition to her breast reconstruction.
“Chemo was a beast,” Kym shares. “Radiation was even worse. I would go to work with layers of aloe and shea butter and Vaseline and Aquaphor on me. But even putting on a silk blouse felt like a ripped-up piece of wood with splinters all over my chest.”
The beauty expert who didn’t feel beautiful
While she was undergoing treatment, Kym was a recurring guest on both The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Hallmark’s Home & Family, regularly sharing her unique brand of lifestyle and beauty tips in front of a live audience. However, at the time, Ellen’s resident “beauty expert” didn’t quite feel so beautiful.
“Here I am talking about beauty on high-definition TV,” Kym shares. “And as the weeks went on, I lost all of my hair, lost my eyebrows, lost my eyelashes, turned green, lost 22 pounds … there was nothing pretty about it. And there I was telling women how to be beautiful while looking like Godzilla’s daughter.
“But I went to work every day. I’d go do a live show for six hours, talking about how to be beautiful. Then I’d drive home and sit in the bathtub and cry, saying to myself, I can’t do this. And I’d get up and do it all again the next day.”
Finding support in an unusual place
From day one, Kym says she had a fantastic support team: her husband, The Young and The Restless actor Jerry Douglas (who later tragically passed away after a brief illness in 2021); her young-adult son, Hunter; some very close friends, including a few breast cancer survivors; and even her social media followers. But what she credits most for getting her through cancer is her faith – and an old oak stump in her backyard.
“It was one of the ugliest things you’ve ever seen,” Kym says. “It was all ripped and cut up. It was basically me. My body was pretty ripped up, it was carved into, and it was pretty ugly.”
Kym would spend time sitting on this tree stump every morning, reflecting, and crying out to God, asking how to keep going. As she was nearing the end of chemotherapy – worn down in body, mind, and spirit – Kym made her daily visit to the stump, looked up to the sky, and asked God to send her a sign that everything was going to be OK.
“There’s nothing; there’s no clouds, no rainbow, no silver lining,” she says. “Nothing is appearing. It was all quiet in Brentwood, California, out in the backyard on an old, ugly stump.”
So, she hung her head in disappointment, ready to give up. Then, she noticed her feet standing in the dead center of what was once a huge, strong oak tree, and she says she immediately got goosebumps everywhere and heard an audible voice say, “You’ve been looking up, but you’re standing on solid ground. You’re standing on a stump whose roots go way deep down into this earth, and every day that you’ve come out here, I’ve heard your cries, I’ve caught your tears, and I’ve held you. I’m going to carry you through this, and you’ll come out stronger than you were before. Your hair will come back, your eyebrows will come back, and you’ll be more beautiful – on the inside – than you ever were before.”
And while it wasn’t an easy journey, Kym made it through her final two chemo sessions. She endured the seven-plus weeks of radiation. And she slowly started building her body back up.
“Sure enough, my hair grew back. It’s full, it’s lush, it’s healthy, it’s long. My eyebrows are back. My eyelashes are back,” Kym exclaims. “But my insides are completely changed. They changed in a good way. Now I have empathy for people. I have grace. I know what it’s like to be brought, literally, to your knees. I know what it’s like to have everything stripped from you.”
Even more changes
Kym’s insides weren’t the only thing that changed. Cancer literally flipped the script on Kym’s career. “I was like, wait a minute. I can’ t do these silly little things,” she says, referring to the beauty tips she would regularly dispense on daytime talk shows. “That stump, it changed everything. I couldn’t do that anymore and be authentic. I don’t give a rip what color lipstick you wear.
“And I’m not trying to downgrade that,” Kym adds. “There are a lot of people who do great things, and they’re happy, they’re fun, and they make our lives happier and prettier. And that’s OK. I’m not throwing stones. But, after you have something like this [cancer] happen to you, you can’t go back to that.”
Now, instead of telling TV audiences how to pick the best lipstick for their skin tone, Kym is focused on bringing
awareness to cancer, raising money for research, and helping people live their best, healthiest lives – no matter
“I’m all about pro-, not anti-, aging. Cancer and what I went through changed all that for me. Every birthday is a gift to me. I don’t try to lie. I’m 62, and guess what? I’m still here, and I’m so proud. Let’s take the stigma out of cancer and age, and let’s all be grateful for what we’ve got.”
Cover image by Cacá Santoro.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2022.