Have Faith: Actress Faith Ford’s Struggle with Graves' Disease

By Bryan Campbell

It’s Christmas time. A childhood dream is coming true for the girl from Pineville, Louisiana. As she gets ready to tape an episode of a hit new television comedy, she starts to feel hot and jittery. “Just nerves” is what people tell her. But then she realizes she is having trouble remembering her lines. It gets so bad that someone calls the paramedics.

“An anxiety attack,” they say. The young actress is given a glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich. She knows that something isn’t right. Somehow, she pulls everything together to give her performance. But once the taping is over, the star of the show, Candice Bergen, gives her simple, and ultimately life-saving advice.

“You need to see your doctor.”

In the fall of 1988, actress Faith Ford should have been on top of the world. The 24-year-old former model had just landed a leading role on the hit comedy Murphy Brown. Playing the loveable journalist, Corky Sherwood, she was an overnight star across the United States. But while she was experiencing virtually overnight success, she was struggling with more subtle changes in her body.

“I was losing weight, even though I was eating enough food for two full grown men,” said Ford. While many might think that is a good thing, she knew something wasn’t right in her body. Despite being an avid exerciser, she often found herself very weak. Often, she would find herself incredibly hot, despite being in relatively cool rooms. “I wanted to dip my hands in ice water just to cool down,” Ford recalled. To make things worse, she often felt that she had sand in her eyes.

Ford tells of a bonding experience where Candice Bergen invited the cast of Murphy Brown on a ski trip. But every time that Ford would fall down, she struggled to gather the strength to stand up again. Later, after the misdiagnosed panic attack episode happened on the set of Murphy Brown, Ford knew she needed to take the advice of her co-star and go see a doctor. But because her symptoms were somewhat vague, the doctor had a hard time making a diagnosis.

“I stayed with my doctor for more than two hours,” said Ford. “Finally, he had an ‘A-ha’ moment and asked me to take a glass of water and swallow.” That’s when the doctor noticed a lump at the bottom of Ford’s throat. It looked like a bulging muscle. Ford had seen it, but assumed it was the result of her workout routine. The doctor knew that it was a malfunctioning thyroid.

Ford had a condition called Graves’ disease. This condition is marked by an overactive thyroid. The thyroid gland produces the hormone which regulates the metabolism in the body. In Ford’s case, too much of this thyroid hormone was responsible for the symptoms she was experiencing.

Happy to finally have a diagnosis, Ford was ready to deal with the problem. Her doctor prescribed a medication to regulate her thyroid hormone levels. She took the medication as prescribed and thought that her thyroid problems were behind her.

Fast forward to six years later, Ford started to notice that, again, she wasn’t feeling right. This time, she recognized the symptoms right away and went right back to her doctor. She received the same treatment as before, but this time it didn’t work

Her doctor informed her that in order to maintain a normal thyroid hormone level, she would have to lose her malfunctioning thyroid. This left her with two options: remove the thyroid surgically, or kill the thyroid using radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment.

By this time, Ford was very thyroid smart. She had learned that her mother has an underactive thyroid, and that thyroid conditions are hereditary and highly common in families. Her mother advised her against having her thyroid surgically removed. Add to that the fact that surgery would take her away from work for about three weeks in the middle of the season, and Ford’s decision was easy. She opted for the RAI treatment.

Once her diseased thyroid had been destroyed, Ford’s doctor needed to replace the thyroid hormone her body should have been producing normally. She was placed on a synthetic thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Simply put, she started taking one pill, every day, to replace the thyroid hormone her body could no longer make. That was more than 16 years ago. And every day since, Ford takes her medication religiously.

“I take it at the exact same time, every day, first thing in the morning,” said Ford. “I take it on an empty stomach and I never skip a day.”

Ford has enjoyed a long and successful career in acting, including Murphy Brown and Hope and Faith, and will next be seen in the upcoming Disney feature film Prom, scheduled for release on April 29th. Recently she ventured into the producing business. She just produced and starred in a feature film entitled Escapee that will be released later in 2011. She’s working with her husband to run a full production company in her home state of Louisiana while helping to invigorate the growing film industry in the state.

In addition to acting and producing, Ford has hosted two seasons of a lifestyle web series for MSN and Kraft called “Mind Body Balance” (www.mindbodybalance.com). On the series, Ford interviews experts and gives tips about how to simplify life in all areas, particularly when it comes to cooking, exercising and organization. Ford enjoys cooking and is the author of the cookbook Cooking With Faith, which features some traditional Southern recipes along with some healthier, updated versions of Southern favorites.

How does she manage to keep up the energy to juggle all of these tasks at once?

“Because I feel better today than I did in my 20s,” said Ford. “Once my thyroid was in balance, it gave me my life back.”

And she has one simple piece of advice for you.

If you aren’t feeling like yourself… if you just feel like something is different and you aren’t sure what it is or why… it might be your thyroid. So do what I did. Talk to your doctor.”