Kate Walsh built her career on playing Dr. Addison Montgomery on Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, but two years ago, she found herself in the scary position of being the patient.
The 49-year-old actress had been experiencing extreme exhaustion and a tendency to favor the right side of her body when she decided to get it checked out. In June 2015, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of a lemon, which was found to be benign after surgery.
EXCLUSIVE: Why Kate Walsh Turned to the Stage to Escape Reality
“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,” Walsh tells Cosmopolitan, revealing her diagnosis for the first time.
The TV star says the first signs that something wasn't right were subtle, and she suspected that she might just be menopausal. "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 recalls. "Then when I was driving, I started swerving into the right lane. The exhaustion got to the point where I could drink five cups of coffee and still not feel awake or clear."
That's when the symptoms started to get worse. "I started having more cognitive difficulties," she shares. "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."
Walsh -- who also appeared on Monday's Today show -- underwent an MRI that found the brain tumor, but reveals that she had to ask for the procedure. "I really pushed to see a neurologist, I just had an instinct," she confides. "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."
MORE: Maria Menounos Opens Up About Her Brain Tumor During Megyn Kelly Interview
Walsh says she will never forget the terrifying moment when her radiologist gave her the official diagnosis. “She starts to say, 'Well, it looks like you have a very sizable brain tumor' -- and I just left my body,” she remembers. “My assistant had driven me there, and I had to go get her so that she could take notes, because I was gone. It was never anything I would have imagined."
Thankfully, the surgeons were able to remove all of her benign tumor, but that didn’t make the experience any less scary. Even after all those years of playing a doctor, Walsh says she was not prepared for this health scare.
WATCH: Kate Walsh and Patrick Dempsey Have Surprise 'Grey's Anatomy' Reunion in New Commercial
"It was the total opposite! You’d think that after playing Dr. Addison for the better part of a decade, where I spent more time on a hospital set than at my house, that I would feel somehow more comfortable, but I was such a little scaredy-cat,” she admits. “In the hospital, I felt like I might as well be six years old. My mother gave me rosary beads, my friend gave me a stuffed animal to go into surgery with… I played a real bada** on TV, but when it comes to being a patient it's such a vulnerable experience.”
Needless to say, the health scare has an impact on how Walsh -- who is now a spokesperson for Cigna -- lives her life. "I want to be with my friends and family and work on projects that are hugely important to me, and fun, and that make a cultural contribution," she says of her new outlook. "But my health comes first, and I’ve had to change my lifestyle."
Olivia Newton-John also had a health scare. Here's her story: