Monica Potter's close call with her 'Parenthood' cancer story

Monica Potter, who plays Kristina Braverman on NBC's sleeper hit "Parenthood" (just renewed for a fifth season), had an emotional story about breast cancer this past season that had multitudes of fans clinging to boxes of Kleenex. And while it's not new territory for television (Kim Catrall on "Sex and the City" and Candice Bergen in "Murphy Brown" came before), it was nonetheless a journey of discovery for Kristina — and Potter herself. "I now know so much better what so many other women have the courage to go through," Potter says.

You recently had a little bit of a scare of your own?


I went for my first mammogram about a year ago. I noticed it was taking extra long to get it done, and the technician was redoing and redoing it. I was told, "I want you to come back. We see something here. We don't know what it is." Because they weren't able to compare it with anything that they had on file, it ended up that it's probably just a cyst, so now I go twice a year to keep an eye on it. But it was scary because you don't know and you can get that phone call anytime saying, "We found something. We want you to come back to check." That's scary.

I went from A to Z really fast. And then when I found out I was OK, I called Jason [Katims, "Parenthood" show runner] and I said, "What if we talk about Kristina's story line next season being about breast cancer?

So the cancer story idea came from you?

Well, he emailed back right away and said, "I have the chills. We just broke this story line in the writers' room for you." So it was like kismet. It was supposed to happen. And Jason's wife, in fact, had breast cancer and went through the whole experience.

When you got the script and read it, what was your first reaction?

I thought, "Oh, what did I get myself into?" [Laughs.] It was odd too, because my kids were really concerned. My son Danny, who is 22, said, "Mom, I don't like this at all. I know you and how you do your job. You're actually going to get sick."

And I thought so many women go through this and are affected and men and families, so I'm going to do this to the best of my ability; I'm going to try and knock it out of the park so that people will pay attention, early detection and all that. I went through a lot of emotions this year. I felt guilty for not actually having it, just a whole range of emotions.

How much input did you have into the script itself?

I let them write it. The one thing I did say to them is let's not have Kristina talk so much. I wanted it to be very visual.

Like the hair-shaving scene. Did you actually shave your head?

No, but I would have if I'd known what the bald cap would entail — something like three to four hours in hair and makeup. That scene we had to do in one take because we only had one cap — a woman had hand-sewn all the human hair onto it by strands. So there were no other options. The director said, "Good luck." But I think the way he shot it, he did an awesome job filming it.

The story was so intense and lasted for the season. Was it something you could let go at the end of the day, or did it drain into you?


I actually felt I went crazy this season. I started to see a psychiatrist. I couldn't let a lot of it go. But I also think that's good, that's cathartic, it's OK. There was a lot of self-discovery in this, and I was a little bit off, but I had to go to that place and come back to where I am now. I'm just grateful I got to do it, I really am, that I was chosen and that Jason had the faith in me to do it. And I wanted to do it to the best of my ability because essentially I was telling so many brave women's stories.