Kathy Griffin Opens Up About Her Cancer, ‘Gnarly’ Voice Surgery, PTSD & ‘Coming Out of Cancellation’ (Exclusive)

“I finally got my voice back,” the comedian told PEOPLE ahead of his Las Vegas show

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Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin finds her voice!

After undergoing left vocal cord surgery last month, the 62-year-old actress and comedian spoke exclusively to PEOPLE about the procedure and her recovery. In a candid and wide-ranging conversation, she shares details of her treatment for her recently diagnosed complex PTSD and her thoughts on her first Las Vegas solo show in six years, which took place at the Mirage Theater on Saturday.

Speaking to PEOPLE at the Malibu home she shares with husband Randy Bick, Griffin is smiling and upbeat, but admits the May 30 procedure affected her vocal cord – which was damaged nearly two years earlier. when she was treated for lung cancer — “was really gnarly.

“They use a hook to open my mouth,” says Griffin, adding that general anesthesia was needed during the 15-minute procedure, “because there’s a fucking needle in my throat!

“Then they put a needle on a camera and they stuck it down your fucking throat,” she continues. “And then they inject this stuff into your tiny little vocal cord.

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Randy Bick (L) and Kathy Griffin

“Because my left cord is paralyzed, they actually inject this thing called Prolaryn Plus which looks like collagen,” she adds, explaining that the injectable helps fatten the left vocal cord so it can meet the right vocal cord. This closure of the vocal cords helps produce a clearer voice.

Known for her honest confessions on social media — and in real life — Griffin revealed in an Instagram post in August 2021 that she was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a lobectomy to rule out the disease during the same month. Despite getting the green light, which she happily announced on The Jimmy Kimmel Show in December of that year, she has since spoken of the challenges of having a paralyzed left vocal cord following her cancer surgery and working as an actress with a self-proclaimed “whispery voice”.

“The thing that’s been really crazy and kind of like, a f–k mind is when I had cancer I had no symptoms and then I had an operation where they removed half of my left lung. And now it feels like I have cancer,” she told PEOPLE. “The frustrating thing is that I have Looks like it hurts, but it’s not.”

Although her latest surgery – which she will have to undergo every six months ‘because your body absorbs the substance’ – has already seen a marked improvement in the way she speaks, she shares that the likelihood of her pre-cancer voice returning is thin.

“This operation gave me more resonance. So the voice I have now, I’m pretty happy with. But they told me the prognosis was this: it’s probably never going to get better,” she says.

The outspoken comedian has faced more than her fair share of challenges in recent years, including a complex PTSD diagnosis she revealed on TikTok in April. Still, Griffin is open and thoughtful, discussing her symptoms and treatment with the same candor fans know and love from her comedy shows.

“What I’ve mostly found is that it’s so much more common than you think. And luckily we’re past the point where people think PTSD is just for veterans. And that’s what I first thought,” she says of the diagnosis. “Fortunately, this science has progressed to include someone like me. I had these panic attacks. And the way they took shape in me is like incessant vomiting.

“Since my lobectomy, I have suffered from this,” she continues. “I couldn’t figure out: Why am I shaking all the time? Why does everything make me sick to my stomach?

Griffin describes his “crippling” anxiety. “You know when you throw up you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything, you’re weak,” and says she finally realized she couldn’t fight her panic attacks and PTSD on her own .

“I have a team of people, I finally said, ‘I can’t do this myself.’ I need to have alternative remedies. I have to accept that this is my new reality. And here is my new voice. And so I do this thing called EMDR,” she says, explaining the desensitization and reprocessing treatment. eye movements.

“You go back to something traumatic, like say it was my cancer diagnosis. But you work through that in a way where your brain can stop being stuck in where to go, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to die. My career is over, my life is over. I have this awful new voice that sounds like I’m on helium,'” she explains. “Then you put it in a new place where you treat it and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been booked in Vegas. My career isn’t over.”

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Kathy Griffin/Instagram

Kathy Griffin

Describing her approach to treatment as “drug-free,” Griffin shares that she has a “full press” that includes EDMR, talk therapy, Kundalini Yoga classes, chanting mantras in a breathwork class, acupuncture, cupping, and meetings. from Alcoholics Anonymous, five days a week, on zoom. Even if she draws a line under a natural therapy: “I’m afraid of essential oils, because it can be cult. I saw a 60 minutes on it,” she jokes, “Be careful with essential oils.

Reflecting on what may have contributed to her PTSD, Griffin mentions fallout from the 2017 photograph of her posing with a replica of former President Donald Trump’s ketchup-covered head. After the image was widely shared online, Griffin was fired from her annual job as CNN’s New Year’s Eve co-host with Anderson Cooper and more than 25 theaters canceled her upcoming shows, which she says now as a “workaholic” accustomed to touring “has been weird and horrible.

“I feel like I lost my voice creatively. And then I got cancer and I literally lost my voice. And honestly, I think it’s kind of PTSD,” says she about her career as of 2017.

But the treatments breathe new life into it. “I haven’t vomited in months. I haven’t had to cancel anything because of the anxiety,” she says.

After going through all of these challenges, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling comfortable taking the stage for a solo show in Las Vegas, but Griffin is excited to chat about how ready she is for her next. performance at the Mirage.

Related: Kathy Griffin Reveals She Was Diagnosed With ‘Extreme Case’ Of "Complex PTSD"

“I absolutely am,” she smiles of the event, which is virtually sold out. “Which is amazing to me, because it’s actually hard to sell tickets to Vegas, because it’s a last-minute city. And you know, it’s real. Like money talks, b— —-t works. So I’m hoping other buyers will see my ticket sales and say, “Hey, she’s not controversial anymore.”

“I’m coming off my cancellation. And the cancer isn’t killing me. I can still put on a show. I love to write,” she says of her life now. “I don’t know what’s going to work. I don’t know what’s wrong. But it’s a very different place than I was six months ago.”

The comedian adds that she doesn’t mention Trump in the new act, instead focusing on two hours of new material for the show she says she’s calling, “Kathy Griffin: My Life On The PTSD List.”

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Larry Marano/Getty Images

Kathy Griffin

Naturally, she has some worries.

“What if I’m an hour and 10 minutes into the show, and my fucking voice gives out?” Like, I don’t think that will be the case. But of course, I have all these fears. What if my new material isn’t funny? What if they aren’t comfortable laughing at things like recovery? »

The new show, she says, will share “the whole journey” from the Trump scandal, which includes her pill addiction and recovery, her cancer diagnosis and being targeted online by conspiracy theorists, who believe She says she’s a lizard person, harvesting baby parts and living in Guantanamo Bay.

“Wait, my scales are falling!” she jokes, adding “But the millions of people who believe this stuff is actually scary. So I can’t wait to talk about it.”

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Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Kathy Griffin and singer Sia

Plus, there will be celebrity stories. “I went to Mexico with my girlfriend, Sia. There was one mishap after another, and it just turned out to be hilarious,” Griffin says.

Sia will be one of the well-known faces of the June 17 show, along with Stormy Daniels. “It’s like a threesome photo, I want to take a good photo and make it into a Christmas card,” jokes Griffin.

Although the performance in the Las Vegas show may be her first in six years – a “meaningful” moment for the comedian as the last show she performed before the infamous Trump photograph was also in Vegas – this probably won’t be the last. Griffin can see the circularity of it all.

“I feel like I lost my comedic voice because of the Trump photo scandal, I literally lost my voice because of cancer surgery and now I finally got my voice back,” said Griffin to PEOPLE. “I’m a grateful and naughty comedian again!”

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text “FORCE” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected with a Certified Crisis Counselor.

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