Jeff Bridges was "close to dying" last year when he got COVID while battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The 72-year-old The Big Lebowski star, who's now healthy and back to work making The Old Man, detailed his health crisis in a new interview, beginning with the morning he was doing routine exercises at home and felt something in his stomach.
A visit to the doctor determined, "I had a 12-by-9-inch tumor in my body," he told People. "Like a child in my body. It didn't hurt or anything."
He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, and started chemotherapy infusions followed by oral chemo. The treatment was effective.
"They got a cocktail that worked, and oh, man — it worked fast," he said. "That thing just imploded."
However, in early January 2021, he received a note from the facility where he was receiving chemotherapy, saying he had been exposed to COVID while being treated there. Bridges, who was not yet vaccinated because it wasn't available, tested positive along with his wife, Susan Geston. The couple, married 45 years next week, shared an ambulance to the hospital, where they were placed in the ICU. Bridges didn't leave the hospital for nearly five months.
"I had no defenses," he said. "That's what chemo does — it strips you of all your immune system. I had nothing to fight it."
Bridges said "COVID made my cancer look like nothing." He was in extreme pain and couldn't even roll over without needing oxygen.
"I was pretty close to dying," he admitted. "The doctors kept telling me, 'Jeff, you've got to fight. You're not fighting.' I was in surrender mode. I was ready to go. I was dancing with my mortality."
Bridges started to improve after being given convalescent plasma therapy using blood from people who've recovered from an illness to help others recover. Slowly, he gained strength, began physical therapy three times a week and ultimately recovered. Shortly after, in September, he shared that his cancer was in remission.
Now, he looks back at that time period as "a bizarre dream." He's happy to be back working again, but said his greatest happiness is spending time with his family — his wife, their three daughters and three grandchildren.
"Who would say, 'I'd love some cancer and give me a dose of COVID?,'" he said of the ordeal. "But my ability to receive all the love and give it was just heightened. Everything was turned up in the most beautiful way."