Karen Duffy: How She Adapted Mindset To Battle Chronic Illness Through Letters To Son

Karen Duffy, who suffers from a health-threatening disease, admitted she's 'less fearful' and 'more confident' after writing her new book, 'Wise Up,' which is filled with letters of advice to her now 18-year-old son.

View gallery
Image Credit: Sara Jaye/Shutterstock

Karen ‘Duff’ Duffy, 59, shared how a painful disease led her to write a book full of loving advice, on the latest episode of The HollywoodLife Podcast. The former MTV VJ was at the heigh of an exciting career when she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, which is the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. The night before she awoke with searing pain, she was at “an amazing point” in her life, having just attended the Emmy Awards. Following her shocking diagnosis and realization that she would suffer from chronic pain, she also discovered that she could “no longer be insured to work as a film actor.” Instead of allowing the unexpected challenges she faced to flatten her spirit, she gained inspiration from “stoic philosophers” and decided to write her own book, Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It, which is full of loving letters of advice to her son, Jack, now 18.

“I think in order to be a great writer, you need to be a great reader, and I was living with chronic pain. I didn’t want this to make me angry, or mean,” she revealed in her HollywoodLife podcast interview. “And what I’ve recognized is that in life, pain is inevitable. We’re all going to experience pain in life, but suffering is optional. That is under our control.”

(Courtesy of Amazon)

“I can’t control the level of pain that I will be in every day, but what I can understand is, this is my life,” she continued. “This is my day, how I spend it is up to me. And so, even if I can’t go out or put on clothes, I can still make this day count, because that is still under our control. So hopefully Wise Up is a great introduction to people who maybe don’t read a lot of philosophy or or are curious. I think I really tried to find the joy in [everyday life].”

Karen revealed that coming up with her own stoic philosophy, during her intense chronic pain, “absolutely” helped her to face the circumstances of her new life. “I just feel like this classical wisdom has dilated my soul,” she explained. “You know, I think that every day is an opportunity where we can get smarter and better. And I just feel that just reading philosophy and understanding what is in our control is most important. And it’s made me stronger, and I am less fearful. And I am more confident.”

Karen Duffy, Jack
Karen Duffy and her son Jack when he was little. (SplashNews)

Duff shared that two of her favorite sayings are “Write it it on your heart, that every day is the best day of the year,” and “He who is rich, who seizes the day”. She continued, “A lot of philosophers are men, but the stoics have many women. Marcus Aurelius, who’s very well known, started off his best known book, Meditations, thanking his mother for everything she shared with him and taught him. And so I love that this [book] is coming out right around Mother’s Day too.”

In addition to gushing over her favorite philosophers and her book, which was released on April 12, Karen told listeners how she’s able to implement her personal philosophy every day. “What’s so great about a practical philosophy is that you can incorporate it into your life, and again, I’m doing modern things,” she said. “Like when I go to the hospital, it’s challenging because there is a real power differential between the doctors, you know, they’re closed and you’re naked. You’re giving blood, you’re giving samples, so it’s a very intimate and a somewhat humiliating position to be in.”

“So I thought, well, I want to change the way I feel because I’ve got to go to [see] doctors a lot. So I just started buying candy necklaces by the bulk, and I would fill my bag with candy necklaces,” she continued, while adding the candy is part of her “not a victim” mentality. “And when I would get the cab to go to the hospital. I’d be like, to the cab driver, ‘Want a candy necklace?’, no one has ever said ‘no’ to a candy necklace. And I would then give it to the nurses and then all of a sudden it went from ‘Oh, there’s that lady who’s coming in for her biopsy’ to ‘Oh, that’s the crackpot with all the candy necklaces.'”

Karen’s full interview can be heard on the May 2 episode of The HollywoodLife Podcast.

More From Our Partners