Mindy Kaling on Why Her Work with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Is So Personal (Exclusive)

Kaling says her daughter asks about her grandma, who died in 2012 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Mindy Kaling is busy with work, kids, and charitable causes, but still makes time to live a healthy lifestyle.

ET's Matt Cohen spoke to the 42-year-old actress as she was promoting her ambassadorship with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) ahead of their national fundraising event, PanCAN PurpleStride, on April 30, and she opened up about maintaining a healthy lifestyle amid quarantine, following the birth of her son, Spencer, 1. Kaling is also mom to a 4-year-old daughter, Katherine.

"I had my son in the first year of the pandemic in September 2020... It was this almost extended maternity leave. I wasn't going to be on camera, the studios were shut down," Kaling explained. "After I had my daughter I had to shoot a movie like two months later, so I was very much like, 'Just give me grilled salmon and sautéed spinach. I'm going to eat that for three months.'"

That salmon and spinach diet didn't make a comeback after Kaling's second pregnancy, as she didn't "have those pressures" of returning to work due to the ongoing quarantine. 

"When the world started coming back a little bit I thought, 'This kind of eating what appears, not taking any consideration for what I'm eating is probably not the way to go,'" Kaling said. "Honestly, I didn't really do anything differently. I eat what I like to eat. If I do any kind of restrictive diet, it never really works for me. I just eat less of it... I wish there was something more juicy or dynamic about the way that I've lost a little bit of weight, but that's the way I've done it."

The reopening of the world included the return of in-person award shows, such as the Oscars. As Kaling got glammed up for the special event, her daughter watched on in awe.

"[My kids] normally think of their mom and, 'Oh the slob that writes on her computer all day.' But when I had to get ready for all of these events, [to] my daughter I was like Elsa from Frozen," Kaling said. "I became completely transformed and she treated me completely differently. She was in awe. That's really funny. I think, because of the pandemic, I hadn't been getting dressed up as much. That was kind of fun, to wow her now and again. She is just at that age where that stuff is kind of interesting."

While Kaling enjoys wowing her daughter with her glamorous outfits, she also treasures more serious conversations with the tot, even if they did come up more quickly than she anticipated.

"She's 4 and she’s already asking me about death. It's something that I was not prepared to answer, frankly. We were reading Charlotte's Web and she was asking me about what happened to grandma," Kaling said of her mom, Swati Roysircar, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. 

"It came up I was completely caught off guard, 'cause I thought she's far too young to be talking about it. My rule of thumb with my kids is I answer their questions completely honestly," she said. "I said, 'Your grandmother passed away pretty young and pretty surprisingly to a disease called pancreatic cancer. Mom's trying to work to help fight it, so there's more survivors.'"

Working to fight it she is, as she's partnered with PanCAN ahead of their PurpleStride event.

"PanCAN is an organization that I absolutely love. I got involved because 10 years ago my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and she passed away in eight months," Kaling said. "PanCAN was a website that I looked up 'cause I just had so many questions. We were in so much despair and it had so many resources. Since then, I have tried to support them as much as possible, because they give resources to families and families can find each other. It's just incredible."

"It's such a deadly cancer. The survival rate for five years is only 11 percent, which, if you can compare to some other cancers, is just so small," she added. "The reason why supporting PanCAN is so important to me is I want to in my lifetime see those numbers change, so if, as someone in the public eye, [can] bring some awareness to it, that is all I want to do."

As for the event itself, Kaling said she's looking forward to stepping out for it with her kids on April 30. Fans can likewise participate by visiting purplestride.org.

"I'm not even athletic, I'm going to be doing this PurpleStride. I'm the ambassador for this because it's this important to me, spreading awareness about testing for pancreatic cancer," she said. "Sixty communities around the country, everyone’s meeting up to walk and raise money for pancreatic cancer awareness."