Kate Walsh Says Her Doctor Dismissed These Brain Tumor Symptoms as Depression

As a star of the ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, Kate Walsh…

As a star of the ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, Kate Walsh is best known for playing a doctor on TV. But in 2015, the actor experienced a role reversal when she became a real-life patient in her own unfolding medical drama. Having noticed a spate of odd symptoms, Walsh found herself suddenly at odds with medical professionals who believed she was experiencing depression. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor “the size of a small lemon,” which doctors removed with surgery. Read on to learn which shocking symptoms her doctors dismissed as psychosomatic, and for the important message she’s now sharing with others.

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Typically active and energized, Walsh first began noticing symptoms during her workout sessions. “My Pilates instructor said, ‘Hey, your right side is dipping,’ and it didn’t feel like I was off, but I looked down and could see it,” she told Cosmopolitan in 2017, adding that she experienced severe exhaustion that no amount of coffee could cure.

Her symptoms progressed from there, affecting various areas of her life. “When I was driving, I started swerving into the right lane,” she recalls. “And then around April, I started having more cognitive difficulties. It felt like aphasia, but it wasn’t just not being able to find words; I would lose my train of thought, I wasn’t able to finish sentences, and that was when I got really alarmed.”

In fact, new symptoms were still emerging right up until the date of her MRI. “I shattered my pinkie the night before my MRI, because I had no depth perception,” she says.

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Kate Walsh
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Walsh admits that when she first started experiencing symptoms of her tumor, even she thought they could be psychological, due to stress and overwork.

However, while speaking with Cosmopolitan, the star said that on some level, she instinctively knew she needed to see a neurologist, and “really pushed” to be referred to a specialist. “I had to really advocate, because they don’t hand out MRIs so easily, but I got an MRI and thank God I did, because it turned out I had a very sizable brain tumor in my left frontal lobe. And three days later I was in surgery having it removed,” she said. “It was over five centimeters, like a small lemon in my head, causing quite a bit of damage.”

Kate Walsh
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Though Walsh was experiencing a range of disturbing symptoms due to her tumor, she says she was initially met with disbelief and condescension. “When I went to the neurologist [to request an MRI], he’s like, ‘Why? What do you think you’re going to find?'” she told Self in 2018. “And he was very condescending. He was like, ‘You’re an actress, you’re in your 40s, you’re not working.'” As an alternative to an MRI, the doctor offered a prescription for antidepressants. “I was like, ‘Respectfully, I have a mental healthcare professional. I’m not saying I’m averse to that or that isn’t helpful, but before I commit to a high dosage of antidepressants I’d just like to get an MRI.”

When the MRI did ultimately reveal her tumor, Walsh says she felt both shock and relief. “It was crazy. The whole situation was so overwhelming, and I was just so relieved to know there was something wrong, that it wasn’t just my imagination and that my instincts were correct,” she told Cosmopolitan.

Kate Walsh
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Walsh says surviving the harrowing health experience completely changed her approach to health: she now focuses on preventative care through regular check-ups. Having once viewed the medical world as “an ivory tower,” she also now comes prepared with ample questions, unafraid to “bother the geniuses.”

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“We’re all so socialized to try to self-diagnose, like, ‘I’ll change my workout, I’ll change my diet,'” she told Cosmopolitan. “I’m very proactive and willful and independent, and in the past, even though I played a doctor on TV for years, I was not one to go see doctors very often, other than for my annual OB-GYN appointment. So for me, it was a really big wake-up call to do annual checkups,” she said.

“I love the idea of changing the framing around healthcare, and changing it from a reactionary thing—’Oh my god, I’m sick, I have to go to the doctor’—to something more along the lines of preventive care,” she continued. “We should go get a checkup the same way we go to the gym, just preventively, instead of waiting for something to go wrong.”