Mark Ruffalo clearly remembers finding out he had a brain tumor and keeping it a secret from his wife.
The Poor Things star had only been married to Sunrise Coigney for a year when he found out in June 2001, and revealed on the Smartless podcast on Monday that she didn’t tell him for two weeks because she was pregnant with their first son, Keen.
How Mark discovered the lump behind his ear was both lucky and confusing.
“I just had this crazy dream,” he said on the podcast. “And it was unlike any other dream I’ve ever had. It was like, ‘You have a brain tumor.’
“It wasn’t even a sound. It was just pure knowledge, ‘You have a brain tumor, and you need to treat it immediately.’”
The father of three children, who was 33 years old at the time, went to the doctor the same day.
“I said, ‘Listen, this sounds crazy, but last night I had a dream that I had a brain tumor,’” he recalled of requesting a CAT scan.
“He came in and he was like a zombie and he said, ‘There’s a mass behind your ear the size of a golf ball.’”
A subsequent biopsy revealed the lump to be an acoustic neuroma, or a non-cancerous tumor on the main nerve from the inner ear to the brain that can affect hearing and balance. Mark previously told the Acoustic Neuroma Association how terrifying the diagnosis was.
“Of course it was scary,” she told the nonprofit in 2013. “And I also felt a little embarrassed or scared about this, and how it would be viewed – especially in my profession.
“So I didn’t tell anyone. I told my best friend… my manager… and I told my family.”Mark at the Critics’ Choice Awards earlier this month
Kevin Mazur via Getty Images
Mark said during his podcast interview that his wife tearfully told him: “I always knew you were going to die.”
While Mark survived, he was forced to face some hard facts by undergoing surgery: There was a 20% chance that accidental nerve damage could leave the left side of his face expressionless and a 70% chance of hearing loss in that ear.
The actor eventually lost the hearing in his left ear, and has since become one of the most recognized actors of his generation — with four Oscar nominations. Mark said all he could think about was his children before undergoing surgery.
“Pay attention to my hearing,” he recalled thinking. “But let me save face, and let me be the father of these children.”