Eric Braeden is doing his part to spread the word about getting regular medical checkups.
The Young & the Restless star, 82, spoke to PEOPLE about his recent bladder cancer diagnosis, which he revealed last month in an emotional video on Facebook Live.
“I decided to go public with it because I can help people not to be so fearful of it,” he tells PEOPLE.
Braeden’s issues began when he was having trouble with his prostate. “The first indications are difficulty to urinate or to empty your bladder completely, and that increases as the prostate grows,” he explains. “It impinges on the urethra, and as it grows more, it impinges more. Hence the flow is restricted. It gets to the point where you wake up every half hour not to pee, because you can’t get rid of it. That’s as graphic and as simple as it gets.”
Soon he was in extreme pain, and went to his doctor. “I walked in with my bladder almost bursting,” he says. He was given a catheter at the time, and the doctor looked inside his bladder and said everything looked OK.
About 6 weeks later when he was still having trouble urinating, he decided to get a second opinion. This second doctor, a urologist, was able to see that there were, in fact, cancer cells in Braeden’s bladder. The fact that he was misdiagnosed is another reason he wants to spread awareness.
But the German-born actor says he wasn’t too worried when he learned the news. “I knew I was going to meet it head-on. I was rather calm about it, because I knew people who had gone through cancer recently. Someone had breast cancer, and that was much more serious. Mine is stage one. And then, my eldest brother who is 8 years older than I am (Braeden has two older brothers and one younger brother) had his entire bladder removed about 10 years ago. He’s been doing fine. So I was sort of calmed by that example.”
After a surgery to have low-grade cancer cells removed from his bladder, Braeden found out that some high-grade cancer cells remained, and he would need to undergo immunotherapy. He gets treatments once a week for six weeks, followed by six weeks off, then another six weeks on.
“I’m now the last stages of the first bout of six,” he says. “They infuse your bladder with a drug, it sort of poisons you a little bit, but they do it to arouse your immunity. And boy does it arouse it! Whoa. Not in a good way — it burns like hell two hours later. You feel weak for a little while, and then the next day it’s gone.”
He’s not shy about sharing the details. “The reason I’m going public is to remind men to have this damn thing checked out,” he says. “Apparently prostates grow with everyone once you’re over 60 or 70. Everything grows in the wrong places as you get older,” he says.
Braeden says the reaction to his announcement has been heartwarming, and that many people have reached out in support. “When you do Facebook live, you see all these little emojis going by — smiling faces and love signs, and then comments. But it goes by so fast, you can’t really read it. So I go back and read it, and it just moves you deeply.”
“A lot of people say, you encouraged us to talk to our husbands about undergoing these exams. I can help people in a serious way, it’s wonderful.”
Braeden adds that he was also recovering from knee replacement surgery at the time he was dealing with his prostate issues, which made his situation even more painful and complicated.
“I was hobbling around and having to get up to pee every half hour,” he says. “One day I sit on the, throne and I tried to get up and I forget that my left knee had been operated on, so I almost collapsed! So all I’m saying is put in some kind of a handle near the john where you can pull yourself up.”
In addition to using humor to maintain a positive attitude, he is continuing to work. “I come from old stock and I grew up in the countryside in Germany and those people worked,” he says, adding that his athletic background also helps: “I’ve been in sports all my life. Sports toughens you up.”
Even now he maintains his athleticism by boxing a heavy bag and using a kettlebell. ” I don’t do heavy weights right now,” he says. “I finally learned that lesson. And I walk as much as I can.”
As for whether he was worried about what fans might say when he started talking about his prostate, it’s a hard no.
“You know, I am 82. I don’t give a s—,” he says laughing.
“I’m not 50, 55 where take off my shirt and all that — although I could — but I don’t have to.”