Cobie Smulders Opens Up About Her Battle With Ovarian Cancer

The How I Met Your Mother and Avengers actress launched a new initiative to empower other survivors.

Think you're too young to get ovarian cancer? Cobie Smulders, known for her starting roles as Robin Scherbatsky in How I Met Your Mother and agent Maria Hill in films from the Marvel universe, did, too. At age 25, Smulders visited her doctor after months of feeling pressure and bloating in her lower stomach. Her ultrasound revealed many women’s worst fear: despite no family history and her young age and good health, Smulders was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

In 2018, more than 22,000 women have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The disease affects approximately 222,000 women in the US, and is extremely difficult to catch in its early stages. It's often incurable.

“The thing with ovarian cancer is that it is very hard to detect,” Smulders says now to “Mine was more sizable than scary in terms of its malignancy. It was deemed to be a borderline cancer, which means it’s not quite malignant enough for chemotherapy, but it wasn’t quite benign enough for it to just be left alone.”

When Smulders was diagnosed in 2007 (while filming season 3 of How I Met Your Mother), ovarian cancer was somewhat of an unknown territory.

“Back then, there were not a lot of treatment options,” she says. “It was a lot of ‘we’re going to cut it out and then we’ll see how it goes.’”

Over the next few years, Smulders underwent multiple surgeries to remove the cancer from her body. She has been in remission ever since.

“It’s infuriating to just wait around for something else to happen or for something not to happen"

Her outcome, sadly, is not commonplace for ovarian cancer. Nearly 85% of women with advanced ovarian cancer will see the cancer return in their lifetime. For these women, living their life is a waiting game: they feel they have little autonomy over their own health, and constantly fear what may be around the corner.

Smulders has partnered with pharmaceutical company TESARO to change that with Not On My Watch, a new initiative aimed to inform and empower women with ovarian cancer. The program, which launched in October with a PSA video directed by and starring Smulders (and featuring three other women fighting ovarian cancer), helps women take a more active role in their treatment plans. Specially, Not On My Watch emphasizes maintenance therapies as an option for women with reoccurring ovarian cancer; by opting in for a maintenance therapy (like PARP inhibition, which helps repair damaged DNA in healthy cells), women can extend their time being healthy and delay possible reoccurrences of the cancer. Equally important, the option gives women the choice to direct their own treatment plan, granting them a sense of power in what used to feel like a helpless situation.

Asked why Smulders wanted to be a part of the launch, she recalls her “cancer days,” as she calls it: “It’s so infuriating to just be waiting around for something else to happen or for something not to happen,” she says. “It’s really the reason that I was very excited about this campaign, because it empowers women not do that—to not sit around and watch and wait, but rather to be as proactive as you can with your health and make sure that you’re educated about all of your options.”

With the launch of Not On My Watch, Smulders hopes that women everywhere become more aware and enabled to take charge of their health, no matter the diagnosis.

“I hope that it empowers people,” she says of the initiative. “I hope people look at us and think: These are four women who survived this, and if they can do it, I can too.”

Every time this video is shared, TESARO will donate $5 to ovarian cancer patient organizations.

Megan DiTrolio

Megan DiTrolio is the editor of features and special projects at Marie Claire, where she oversees all career coverage and writes and edits stories on women’s issues, politics, cultural trends, and more. In addition to editing feature stories, she programs Marie Claire’s annual Power Trip conference and Marie Claire’s Getting Down To Business Instagram Live franchise.