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For Edie Falco, an ‘Attitude of Gratitude’ After Surviving Breast Cancer

Everything about her Hollywood life melted away when Edie Falco, known for her star turns on the hit television series The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, received a diagnosis for breast cancer.

It was 2003, while she was working on The Sopranos. The diagnosis happened in the morning. “I remember I had to be at work at one [in the afternoon],” Falco said Wednesday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego. It was “surreal” to receive the news, she said: “You go into some sort of hyper reality.”

Roughly one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Though death rates have been decreasing since 1989, almost 42,000 American women will die this year from the disease.

Falco’s cancer luckily went into remission a year later. It took a bit longer for her to appreciate her newfound gratitude. “I survived cancer, for heaven’s sake,” Falco said, adding that many women with similar diagnoses who consulted her about the experience later died. “How could you not be grateful?”

Not long after her cancer went into remission, Falco—who, as a single woman, “never really thought” she’d have kids—adopted a child. Then she adopted another. She now has two children, ages 11 and 14. She said fellow actor Rosie O’Donnell helped educate her on the adoption process.

Now Falco struggles with the same things every parent does: determining what a healthy relationship looks like between her children and modern technology. Despite her profile, Falco doesn’t use social media. “I had a lot of practice being a person before those phones came along,” she told interviewer and Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington.

Still, “I can’t ask my elders” how they coped with children and technology, said Falco, adding that “it’s hard and it’s complicated” to deal with young children who have different, more intense relationships with technology.

Is she concerned about tech addiction? Falco has reason to be. The actor celebrated 27 years of sobriety from alcohol this year, noting that she comes “from a long line of addicts.”

“It became clear that this had grabbed me, had a hold on me,” Falco said. Now her ritual is to visit an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on the anniversary of her sobriety.

For years, Falco said, she rolled her eyes at the support organization’s rhyming mantras. “In AA, they talk about an attitude of gratitude,” she said. The touchy-feely nature of the saying didn’t speak to a woman who grew up in an Italian-American family in New York City.

But Falco eventually came around. She also began to practice Buddhism. “We appear to be a species where ritual and meaning are important,” she said. “Everything we believe, we made a conscious decision to believe it.”

Falco has since collected acting awards for both drama and comedy—a reflection, perhaps, of her triumphs and tribulations.

“It still shocks me that I get to do what I do for a living,” she said. “It’s something I still cherish. I love it…I’m the luckiest of the lucky.”

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