As one of the most celebrated comedic actors of our time, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has spent the better part of her career making people laugh. But her life took a serious, unexpected turn in 2017 when she received a sobering call from her doctor: That was the moment she found out she had stage II breast cancer.
In a cover story for WSJ Magazine published on Wednesday, the Seinfeld star reflected on the life-altering diagnosis, which she learned about just one day after winning an Emmy for her lead role in Veep. Instead of responding with tears, confusion, or rage—as you might expect—Louis-Dreyfus’s initial reaction was a bit more surprising: She laughed out loud.
“I mean, I felt like it was written,” she told the outlet. “It felt like it was a horrible black comedy. And then it sort of morphed into crying hysterically.” Despite her instinctive smile, she explained, she was ultimately terrified. “You just simply don’t consider it for yourself, you know, that’s sort of the arrogance of human beings,” she said.
In October 2018, Louis-Dreyfus announced that she was officially cancer-free, after a double mastectomy and six rounds of chemotherapy. She was open about her experience throughout her treatment too—sharing both hardships (like the physical side effects of her invasive surgeries) and wins (including the support she received from loved ones along the way). During these difficult times, again, humor helped her cope, she revealed while receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2018.
“The old cliché about laughter being the best medicine turns out to be true,” she said at the time. “When I was getting my hideous chemotherapy, I’d cram a bunch of friends and family into the tiny treatment room…. We really did have some great laughs.”
Now, after five years of being in remission, Louis-Dreyfus said she doesn’t feel as immortal as she once did. Instead, she’s committed to “living life more mindfully.” “It’s not like it’s yakking at me all the time, but there’s more laser focus.”