The Academy Award-winning actress, 56, has already endured back surgery to ease her pain, and will likely need to undergo additional operations. She told CBS Sunday Morning, in a episode airing Sunday, that her rheumatoid arthritis has affected much of her body.
“That means that my hands stopped working,” she said. “It means that — I can’t really tie my shoes. It means that I can’t — I mean, I can’t tie my shoes. I have to re-learn to write. And definitely need surgery on my left knee and my neck in the next week.”
O’Neal credited her daughter Emily McEnroe, one of her three children with ex-husband John McEnroe, for helping her through the struggles. Emily said that O’Neal is staying positive.
“My mom is incredibly loving,” Emily said. “She’s childlike and has always been honest, like she said, fun-loving, just bright. My mom lights up every room that she enters. And that’s true.”
In January, O’Neal shared a photo of the bruises and scars on her back, telling her Instagram followers that this is what “living with rheumatoid arthritis” looks like.
“A fall scratch scar on my right 😠hip. And the back surgery scar from eight years ago,” she wrote in the caption, pointing out each scar seen on her body. “My last back surgery scar is on the front from February.”
“Believe it or not this is me actually getting better,” she added. “Cheers to everyone and rheumatoid arthritis can go f— itself #rheumatoidarthritiswarrior.”
Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, is a chronic inflammatory disorder that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition can cause inflammation, swelling and pain, and in severe cases lead to bone erosion and joint deformity.
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In addition to living with RA, O’Neal has gone through many other challenges in life. She’s long had a difficult relationship with her father, actor Ryan O’Neal, that they’ve since repaired, and she dealt with a heroin addiction that caused her to lose custody of her three kids in 1998.
O’Neal told CBS Sunday Morning that during those difficult years, her kids may be what kept her alive.
“I was really ready to kind of fall down and — and not get back up. I was not myself,” O’Neal said of that time. “I was 22 and then the kids gave me kind of a real reason to keep going and fight. And still the happiest times of my life were the times that I, that I was married, funny enough. So the most stable, the most loved, the most…so sometimes we’re thinking we made the right decision and maybe we aren’t. And I have to live with that, too.”
O’Neal clarified that one choice that may not have been the “right decision” was her divorce from John.
“Perhaps not,” she said. “I was loved. I was cared for. We are very different now. But, I, he’s happier, and I’m happy for him. And that makes me happy.”
CBS Sunday Morning airs Sundays at 9 a.m. EST on CBS.