In Part One of our interview with Emmy winner Suzanne Rogers, the actress recounted her past as a New York Rockette and her early years on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. In Part Two, Rogers discussed how struggles with physical limitations from myasthenia gravis led to her leave the soap in 1984. In this next revealing part, Rogers shares how emotional factors contributed her to her debilitation, and how she came fighting back.
Suzanne Rogers: My last show was on a Friday. Saturday morning when I woke up and went into the bathroom, I looked like I had had a stroke. One side of my face had just completely fallen. I freaked out because this was on a Saturday and you can’t reach any doctors on Satuday or Sunday. By Monday that side wasn’t like that, and the other side was like that. The bottom line is that it comes from stress. And I was going through this upheaval on the show—of being pushed to the back. I had gone through a divorce and these things were coming all at the same time. And my body was breaking down. It was stopping.
We Love Soaps: I didn’t know there was a connection between this disease and stress.
Suzanne Rogers: Oh, yes. Almost every neuromuscular illness is triggered by some form of stress. And yes, we all have stress every single day. It’s not that kind. It’s a stress that is monumental. A lot of things coming together at one point and then the body just stops. And that’s kind of what it was. I said years later that it was God tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Slow down.” It was just bizarre.
They started me on Pednisone. It’s a medicine you get weaned on to and then they usually they don’t wean you completely off, they make you take it for the rest of your life. I went on it in 1984 and I didn’t take the last pill until 1995. I basically stopped taking it myself. I kept having these dreams about where I was in the state of the pills—what milligram I was on. So finally, [the doctor] got very fed up with me. He said, “Your doctor from Virginia keeps his patients on 10 mg for the rest of their life.” And I said, “Well, doctor, I’ve already had a dream that I’m going to be taking a 5 mg [dose] and breaking into 2 1/2." I would not let them put any bad negative thoughts into my mind that I wasn’t going to get off this medicine.
So I went back to the show [in 1985] still being on this horrific medicine. That’s why I looked so terrible and the audience went nuts. They said, “What is wrong with her? Is she drinking?” They only basically shoot you from your waist up, and I looked terrible. The camera does add a certain amount of weight. And here I am with this big round full face. And my hair was falling out. You name it, that was going on. It was hard for me to look at myself on the air. So I cut the dosages down. And we’re talking a year at a time. We’re not talking daily. It was ‘84 to ‘95. That’s eleven years of taking this medicine in different increments.
We Love Soaps: Having been so physically active and dependent on your body, how did you cope with the loss of physical ability?
Suzanne Rogers: I had to go to therapy every week for a year because I had to find out what caused this. They kept saying, “Stress, stress...” Well, everybody has stress. That’s not an answer. It’s just things that had happened. I had never been a person to talk about things, I always kept everything in. What came out was, the relationships, with...you know my father and I weren’t real close. But it was about relationships with my father, about how the show was changing, and the fact that I had gone through a divorce. And all three of those things combined were things I had kept to myself and not voiced to anybody. This is what came out. And this was the beginning of the healing for me. I prayed all the time, and all my fans and friends were praying daily for me to get better, to get well, just to live! I mean I literally stayed in my house. I couldn’t answer the phone because I was unable to speak, and people would hang up thinking they had the wrong number. I had this garbly-garb that would come out. I thought I was being pretty understandable, but they couldn’t understand me.
We Love Soaps: So are you saying that by getting into therapy and facing these issues, that that helped you to heal and manage this disease?
Suzanne Rogers: Yes. I didn’t want anyone telling me that I couldn’t do something. Probably the best thing was the doctor that I had because he was being very clinical. “You are never going to back to being in front of a camera again. You are never going to get over this. You are never going to go off these medications.” Because of him [saying] that, the dander went up, the red hair, the Irish temper, the German that was in my family from my dad. All of that bucked him. I wasn’t going to listen to him. It kind of gave me a strength. I wasn’t going to have anyone tell me I couldn’t do it.
We Love Soaps: That is so inspiring for me.
Suzanne Rogers: I felt like, “No! I’m not going to roll up and die. I’m not going to roll up and do nothing for the rest of my life.” I was too young, and I loved what I did too much. And I prayed, I really prayed a lot. I went to church all the time and my prayer was first to God to get him to put a name on this. Then when that happened, I prayed, “If I’m supposed to be in this business, then get me well enough to do it again. But if I’m not, then get me well enough to do whatever it is you want me to do. Just tell me what it is, give me some sign to get me to know what I was supposed to do.”
We Love Soaps: And what was that sign?
Suzanne Rogers: [DAYS Executive Producer] Al Rabin called me and asked me to come back to the show. I said, “You need to see me.” Because I did not look like I did when I left the show. You must remember that when I left the show I was running 10Ks and I was thin. I was at about 115 lbs. When I went back on the show I was 130pounds. So there was a big difference, plus the bloating on my face from the medication. The first time I saw myself on television I didn’t know who it was. Then when I realized it was myself I turned off the television and cried. It was unbearable for me to look at it. And so I thought, well, God has gotten me this far, I’m back on the show, so I guess this is what I’m supposed to see. So I turned the TV back on. You just have to have faith, that’s what it boils down to. I know that sounds very cliché and people said, “Oh yeah, right,” but you’ve got to believe it.
We Love Soaps: One might think that returning to the show and being backburned again for so many years would be a source of stress. Was it?
Suzanne Rogers: You know, every day I woke up and didn’t have a symptom was a good day. So I didn’t have a lot to do on the show. But, I was there. [Pause] I got a lot of strange reactions from people on the show. That hurt me more than not having much to do.
We Love Soaps: Strange reactions?
Suzanne Rogers: When people don’t understand something they say things, and you go, “Where did that come from?” I don’t want to get into it. But that was more hurtful than the way I looked.
We Love Soaps: You’ve mentioned many times how horrible you thought you looked when you came back to the show. But I remember the 1986 double Valentine’s wedding to Mickey and I thought you looked great. To me you looked so beautiful and radiant, yet you look back at that and see something different.
Suzanne Rogers: When we did that double wedding, you can see my cheeks really plump. Of course they did an amazing job with make-up trying to make me look better than I actually did. We’re always more critical of ourselves. But it was hard. Eventually you go, “What’s my choice here? What’s the alternative?” I figured since they were encouraging enough to invite me back, I had to give it a shot.
I don’t know what the audience reaction was but I guess it was pretty bad because they came to me six months later and they said, “The audience wants to know what’s going on with you so we’re going to have Mike Horton diagnose you with this illness.” I said “Okay, but only if it has a happy ending. I have to get well. I want it to end that I’m well.” And so, that’s what they agreed to do. There was a story with me not being able to speak, not being able to talk, and they actually used it. So the days I was having problems were the days that seemed to be going on [for Maggie]. They did write it in. And that’s why so many fans got wind of it. Now to this day I’ll get calls from people or notes in my mailbox from people who have it or loved ones of people who have it. It’s ongoing, and that’s because the show did the storyline.
Please come back tomorrow for Part Four in which Suzanne Rogers talks about managing stress after the "death" of Maggie.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.