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Redgrave: 'I really don't let a moment slide by'

She says acting, family support helped her through ordeal

Redgrave book
Redgrave reads from her and her daughter's book about her struggle with breast cancer.
Mayo Clinic
Lynn Redgrave

(CNN) -- Actress Lynn Redgrave suffered through, worked through, and, most importantly, lived through her battle with breast cancer -- and now says she hopes others can learn from her fight.

She and her daughter, Annabel Clark, teamed to produce "Journal: A Mother and Daughter's Recovery from Breast Cancer." The two of them talked to CNN's Paula Zahn about their experiences and emotions before, during and after Redgrave's chemotherapy and surgery. The interview, along with pictures from the book, will air on "Paula Zahn Now" Wednesday beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

LYNN REDGRAVE: I thought I was living very fully before this happened. But in comparison, no, I really wasn't. I wasn't taking the time to notice things. I didn't see things as brightly or as sharply or as memorably as I do now.

I really don't let a moment slide by, I just don't. It's a big price to pay, isn't it -- to have to have cancer to learn that? But it is in the end, I have to say, a price worth paying.

PAULA ZAHN: Annabel, have you seen changes in your mother?

ANNABEL CLARK: It has made us so close, it's changed our relationship. I feel like I've been to the bottom of her experience and back up.

ZAHN: How did you decide to take the horror of your experience and turn it into a project?

REDGRAVE: We both, at the same moment, thought to ourselves we should document this. ... I thought it would help her look at me.

So this began in a very private, private way ... It helped immeasurably having Annabel there physically. Then it was like, "Oh, she's going to document this." It was just for us to begin with. And I don't think I could have gone through [the cancer treatment] without that.

ZAHN: How did it lift your burden?

CLARK: It just turned it into something we could control. The illness itself, you don't know what's going to happen. ... I could see the end of the project, as opposed to the end of her life or the end of cancer. It was just, I've got to finish this project with a beginning, middle and end -- and the end will be when she is better.

ZAHN: So much of your femininity is about your breasts ...

REDGRAVE: Even when people began seeing the picture, I don't feel embarrassed. But only this summer that's just gone by, that was a year and a half after, was the first time I began to feel comfortable, say, at a gym in a women's changing room.

I was in Croatia and my best friend was with me, and she said, "I'm going to this nude beach." ... It was the first time I threw off my clothes and jumped in the water. I couldn't have done that before, and yet the pictures [from the "Journal" book] made me more objective about myself.

ZAHN: You were much more troubled by losing your hair than your breast?

REDGRAVE: I really was. I think if I'd been younger, the breast would have been more of an issue. It is still strange to only have one. I didn't have reconstruction. One of them is one of those wonderful prosthetics. I've gotten used to that.

I look at it as, not a badge of courage exactly, but proof that I'm still here. It's like seeing the scar; I can say, "Yes, I went through a lot, and look how great I feel." In a way, it helps me.

ZAHN: After the surgery, you had committed to doing a play. Even during chemotherapy, you did not miss one performance.

REDGRAVE: No, I didn't. There were days when I would wake up from my big nap ... feeling very drugged either from taking the anti-nausea drug or perhaps from having all that stuff in your body when you have chemo. And if I hadn't had a show to go to, I would have just got back into bed.

All of us actors who are in the theater look at it as "doctor theater". You get down there, you're with your colleagues, the energy starts to come back. By the time you got your makeup, your wig and your costume, you walk out there and for a period of time, you no longer have cancer.

They give workshops in hospitals on how to leave behind you body and leave behind your woes. And I actually get paid to do this stuff. So it was wonderful. I got to be somebody else ...

If you stop and think about it every evening, and go, "I'm not working, I'm lying here, I've got cancer," I swear the outcome would be less good. I'm not saying you would die, but your whole spirit would go. And I think this applies to any job.

ZAHN: What difference has your mother's positive attitude made in her recovery?

CLARK: That's everything for her and for me. From the very beginning when she told me over the phone, maybe it was just her being a mother, but she was ... very matter of fact. You know, "I'm going to be OK." I didn't know how much of that to believe at the time, but it ended up being true. Her attitude was never "poor me." She was determined to get through it, and she did. ...

We talk all the time about little things, big things, just calling to say "hi" because we don't know how long we have together. So it sort of made every moment more special.

ZAHN: Take us back to Christmas 2002 ... You felt something strange.

REDGRAVE: I remember it so vividly because it was in my apartment in New York. I lay on my tummy so uncomfortable. I had, in fact, been having some funny feelings under my arm. I thought I pulled a muscle.

I'd had these funny strange electrical impulses in my right breast, but I thought it was cold weather. I pay very little attention to things like that. I lay down and thought this bed is just so lumpy, which it isn't.

And I put my hand [on my breast], and I thought, "Where did that come from"? It was a big lump. It felt to me touching it like a very large [corkscrew pasta]. And I thought how did that get there? How did I not find it? It was terrifying.

Every time, we would take a break [from rehearsals], I would go into the ladies room and have a feel and hope it wasn't true. ... I kept thinking it's just one of those cysts I've heard people get. It's not anything

ZAHN: Annabel, what do you want people to learn from your shared experience?

CLARK: I'd only seen people die from it before she went through cancer. [I've learned that breast cancer] is not a death sentence, that you can still live your life.

We got through this together. ... It's hard to be the daughter or the husband or anyone in the family [of a breast cancer sufferer]. But you can get through it.

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