Jeff Bridges has had both — and said cancer was easier than COVID-19.
The “Old Man” star, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2020, was undergoing chemotherapy when he contracted the coronavirus — and the 73-year-old is candid about how one affected the other.
“I got this letter from the chemo place informing me I had contracted COVID,” Bridges told AARP The Magazine in an interview published Tuesday. “I had no immune system left to fight it. Chemo had wiped that out, which made it really, really tough.”
“For me,” he continued, “cancer was nothing compared to the COVID.”
Bridges had COVID while also dealing with a 9-by-12-inch tumor in his body. The actor told AARP he contemplated his own death at the time and was convinced he’d never work again — until recovery led him from “we’ll see” to “maybe.”
It was ultimately his wife, Susan Gaston, who helped him get back on his feet.
“My wife Sue was my absolute champion,” Bridges told the outlet about his partner of more than 45 years. “She really fought to keep me off a ventilator. I didn’t want to be on it, and the doctors didn’t necessarily want that. But Sue was adamant.”
Hospitals seized on ventilators in the early days of the pandemic to help COVID-19 patients breathe. Studies began to suggest mechanical ventilation could be leading to a higher death rate, however, perhaps due to the risk of bacterial infection or lung inflammation.
Bridges told AARP he had been “doing those fight scenes” in “The Old Man” without even knowing about his cancer — which has since shrunk “to the size of a marble.” While he announced in September 2021 that he was in remission, the journey was far from easy.
“A lot of getting better was a matter of setting really small goals,” he told the outlet.
“At first, they’d say, ‘How long can you stand?’ For a while, my record was 45 seconds before I’d collapse,” he continued. “And then they were saying: ‘Oh, look, you’re standing for a minute! That’s so cool. Now can you walk 5 feet?’”
Bridges contracted COVID-19 a second time last year but said “it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first go-around.” The actor, who was hospitalized during production of the first season of “The Old Man,” is set to start filming the second — and couldn’t be happier.
“Doing what you do, that invigorates you, and you feel great,” he told AARP. “And I’m so blessed to have this cast … you know, that fueled my health, too, I think.”