Dianne Kay on Beating Kidney Cancer

Despite her success on the big and small screen, Dianne Kay has experienced her fair share of pain. Not only did she lose her onscreen mom and older sister from “Eight Is Enough,” but Kay also just survived a battle with kidney cancer.

Ilyssa Panitz • More.com Celebrity Reporter
diane kay image
Dianne Kay
Photograph: Jack Silvera

More: How would you describe your life?
Dianne Kay: Life takes you in so many directions, and what just happened to me showed me we are the navigators and the ones in the driver’s seat. You experience a lot of ups, downs and challenges, and you need to find that inner strength to get past them.

More: Do you consider the Eight Is Enough years an up moment in your life?
DK: Oh my God, it was one of the best times. I think Eight Is Enough gave people an hour to experience our big happy family and get into our lives. I came from a small family, so to come into this big family made me feel so lucky and blessed. We really were a family on that show. We went to each other’s weddings and baby showers, and when Diana Hyland passed away, we grieved like family.

More: You must have been rooting for your former costar Ralph Macchio on this past season of Dancing with the Stars.
DK: I was rooting for him. He is such a sweetheart. Matter of fact, my son just finished reading The Outsiders, and then we rented the movie. When I told my son that Ralph was a friend of mine, he was shocked and said, “Wow, he knows you?”

More: Unfortunately, some of your costars fell into tough times. How did it make you feel to hear about Lani O’Grady’s death, Adam Rich’s trouble with the law and Willie Aames’s falling on hard financial times?
DK: You hope and wish the best for them. We all have choices to make, and sometimes we don’t make the best ones at the time. When you have a debilitating disease like Lani did, that is just not something you just can’t help. What was so hard for me was when Lani passed away, because I was so close to her.

More: I’m sorry.
DK: You try to offer advice, but sometimes there are demons in people’s lives that are too powerful, and there is only so much you can do. I miss Lani, and I think about her a lot. Matter of fact, I still have her picture, and sometimes I will pass by it and think, I would love to talk to you. Unfortunately, Lani had a lot of demons in her life, and she couldn’t get past them. It is sad because I miss her a lot.

More: It sounds like you tried to help her.
DK: We all did in many ways. When you have addictions it is difficult, because the addictions take over the person. Lani was a beautiful person when she wasn’t dealing with her addictions.

More: When Eight Is Enough ended—was that a downtime for you?
DK: It was a challenging time for me, but I did go on to do other projects, and I was able to work with Steven Spielberg in 1941, which was incredible.

More: How did you avoid going to the dark side of Hollywood?
DK: I had a solid homelife. I think because of that I was able to make careful choices. I always had my parents to fall back on when I was uncertain about something. They were my best support system, and you need that in this town.

More: What lessons have you learned as you get older?
DK: As you get older you learn how to sink or swim and figure out how to deal with the obstacles in front of you.

More: You are also penning a sitcom. Tell me about that.
DK: It is called Seconds, and it is about four women who are in their second stages of life. Our menopausal hormones are battling our kids’ raging hormones. I guess you can say our show is a parody, and we are really making fun of ourselves in a positive way.

More: Has writing a comedy series helped you work though some of your issues and find the humor in it all?
DK: If you don’t, life is pretty darn bleak. After surviving cancer I was given a second chance, and as a result I decided I wanted to make every second of my life count.

More: Will you write about your experience with cancer?
DK: Maybe down the road there will be a situation where we could write about it.

More: Congratulations on surviving cancer.
DK: Had I not caught it early, and if the tumor had grown another centimeter and a half, it would have gone outside the capsule of the kidney, and then I would have been in trouble.

More: How did you catch it?
DK: I have no history of cancer in my family. Back in 2001 I wasn’t feeling terrific, but I attributed it to being tired and taking care of a toddler. I had an MRI, and one doctor saw something the size of a thumbnail on my right kidney. Not only did I also have a bout of sciatica, but while I was sleeping a strong feeling woke me up and said, You call your doctor right away. And so I did. From there I had an ultrasound, and that showed I needed a urologist, and they needed to do a CAT scan.

More: How scary.
DK: I knew I wasn’t feeling well, and that my body was telling me something was wrong. They took that kidney out, and luckily I have another kidney.

More: What went through your mind when they told you it was cancer?
DK: It is an out-of-the-body experience. You are saying to yourself, No. This is not me. I didn’t have time to be afraid. I was just like, “Get it out.” But having cancer also allowed me to find an inner strength I never knew I had before. For me, I had to take the bull by the horns and say, Let’s get this alien out because I have a husband and a son.

More: You saw the images of your husband and son flash before you right there?
DK: That certainly was a motivating force to get it done and move forward.

More: Was telling your son that you had cancer one of the hardest conversations you’ve ever had?
DK: Yes, because he is an only child, and I am an older parent. I am sure this was very frightening for him. He was really scared, but the outcome was positive. I think this was a wake-up call for us.

More: Did you need any follow-up treatment?
DK: Luckily it was encapsulated, but I do go for regular follow-up visits.

More: Now that you have this new lease on life, have you done anything daring and bold?
DK: Doing this show is the boldest move I have ever taken. I have been a closet writer. Matter of fact, when my son was little I would write children’s stories for him. His favorite story is “Betty Laverne and Ruby Louise Were Two Little Girls Who Hated Their Peas.” Getting that story published and having my show Seconds picked up would be the top two things I would put on my bucket list.

Click here to read our interview with Barbara Eden.

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First Published Wed, 2011-06-15 00:52

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