​Kathy Bates on her bravest role yet

The Oscar-winning star of "Misery" and "American Horror Story" opens up about her battle with Lymphedema, a debilitating condition that affects 10 million Americans.

CBS News

Kathy Bates played a woman charting her own course in the 1991 film "Fried Green Tomatoes." Now, in real life, she is still doing things her way, only for much higher stakes. Lee Cowan has a Sunday Profile:

When Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates asked us to come to her doctor's appointment recently, we weren't sure what to expect. After all, why would anyone want cameras in an exam room, especially an acclaimed Hollywood actress?

But this is something Bates wants people to see -- modesty be damned.

We've come to know Bates through some pretty memorable characters, in "Fried Green Tomatoes," "Dolores Claiborne," and "Primary Colors" -- rock solid, and often timber-strong.

But after surviving both ovarian cancer and breast cancer Kathy Bates found herself in yet another battle -- one that needed all the strength of her characters, combined.

"You probably noticed, I'm wearing what we call a compression sleeve," she showed Cowan. "It's elastic, and it keeps the arm, maintains its size."

Bates shows Cowan an elastic compression sleeve, worn to help her left arm swollen with fluid, from a chronic condition called Lymphedema. CBS News

Her left arm, and to a lesser extent her right, are swollen with fluid, a chronic condition called Lymphedema. "Yeah, that's painful," she commented.

It first reared its head after doctors removed 22 lymph nodes as part of her double mastectomy four years ago.

"I went berserk, I went nuts," Bates said. "And for a long time after that, I was really, really angry. 'Cause I thought, 'Great. Now I gotta deal with this."

Lymph nodes process fluid and carry it around the body. Without the lymph nodes, the fluid backs up, causing the swelling.

The condition requires daily management, and frequent visits to a Lymphedema specialist, who manually coaxes the fluid back into Bates' system through massage or a special pressure cuff.

Lymphedema by itself is not fatal, but it can be terribly disfiguring and debilitating. And it's hardly rare. As many as 10 million people suffer from it in the U.S. alone.

That is more, Bates noted, than who suffer from a host of diseases: "More than MS, Muscular Dystrophy, ALS, Parkinson's and AIDS, combined."

It didn't help that when Bates was diagnosed, she was going through a professional rough patch. She had just gotten the news that NBC was taking her show, "Harry's Law," off the air.

"One of the main reasons that our show was cancelled was because our audience was too old," she laughed. "Then you think, okay, that means maybe I'M too old. And then you have a double mastectomy, and so it's was like, 'Okay, it's over, everything's over.'"

But then came FX's "American Horror Story," where Bates not only shined, she found her footing again.