Barry Watson became a household name at just 22, playing the Camden family’s eldest son on the hit WB series 7th Heaven. Since then, the actor has appeared on Gossip Girl, headlined Samantha Who? opposite Christina Applegate, and starred in several films, including Teaching Ms. Tingle, Boogeyman, and Far From Home. But when Watson was 28 years old, a health crisis put his career on the back burner: In 2002, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a serious form of cancer which affects the lymphatic system. Healthy and cancer-free two decades after his diagnosis, the star is warning others about the cancer symptom he noticed first. Read on to find out what it was, and how battling cancer shaped the star’s life.
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Watson recalls the exact moment in March of 2002 that he knew something was wrong with his health. “I remember being in New York doing publicity for a movie I did that was coming out. It was around St. Patricks Day. My brother asked me if I was going to have a pint or a whiskey. I told him I was too tired to go out and that felt odd to me,” he told GQ in 2020. While he remembers feeling “certain that something was going on” with his body, the actor says he rationalized his symptoms, attributing the extreme fatigue to his busy work schedule at the time.
When Watson later noticed a lump in his neck and developed night sweats, he knew he could no longer brush his concerns aside. These two new symptoms prompted him to call his doctor, leading to a cancer screening and biopsy that confirmed he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
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Watson embarked on an aggressive treatment plan, which required 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,” he told Coping with Cancer Magazine in 2014.
Though Watson took a leave of absence as an actor, he says he was able to continue working behind the scenes when he felt up to it. “Brenda Hampton, who created 7th Heaven, gave me a job on the show as story editor. That was a godsend because it kept me focused on something else—not my cancer,” he said.
Three months into his treatment, Watson learned that his cancer was no longer detectable—a fact that he says made the second half of his chemo regimen easier to endure. When he finished his course of treatment, he returned to 7th Heaven onscreen, restarting on the 150th episode.
Watson has opened up about the many ways having cancer at such a young age has changed his outlook on life. Now married to Natasha Gregson Wagner (daughter of legendary film star Natalie Wood) and a father of three, he says his health history reminds him to focus on what’s in front of him. “I don’t worry about the little things so much anymore,” the star told Coping. “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 said. “I see life a little brighter than I used to. Every color is a little more vibrant.”
Reflecting on his battle with cancer, the star says he’s made the most of a difficult experience. “I wish I didn’t have to go through it,” he said. “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.”
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These days, Watson says his fight against Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a distant memory. “It feels like a lifetime ago,” he told ABC News in 2021. Yet the star has learned valuable lessons, and now hopes to share some of what he’s gleaned from the experience with others. First and foremost, he says, he hopes his story will serve as a reminder to always consult a doctor when something seems not quite right. He adds that this is especially important since the pandemic has kept so many people away from their healthcare providers.
“For the last year and a half with COVID-19, people were almost staying away from their doctor at times. It’s more important now than ever to get your checkups, get your bloodwork done. Looking back, my body was trying to tell me something way before I was diagnosed,” he told ABC News. “Listen to your body.”
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