During an appearance on Monday’s SmartLess podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett, the Poor Things actor recalled finding out that he had a large “mass” behind his left ear. At the time, his wife — whom he married in 2000 — was days away from giving birth to their first child, son Keen, now 22.
“I had a brain tumor after the success of You Can Count on Me,” the actor told the hosts. “Sunrise was, like, nine and a half months pregnant, and the baby was imminently coming.”
“I had one of those 4 a.m. calls, and I woke up probably around 3 a.m., and I just had this crazy dream,” Ruffalo, now 56, said, recalling the dream that led to the discovery of his brain tumor after the success of You Can Count on Me. “And it wasn’t like any other dream I’d ever had. It was just like, ‘You have a brain tumor.’ It wasn’t even a voice. It was just pure knowledge, ‘You have a brain tumor, and you have to deal with it immediately.'”
He added that the dream was “so intense” and had a “sense of doom” that alarmed him, especially since the only ailment he had was an ear infection. But the actor recalled that he still went to the doctor immediately after the vivid dream.
“I said, ‘Listen, this is going to sound crazy, but I had this dream last night that I had a brain tumor,”’ he shared, noting that the doctor indulged him by ordering a CAT scan despite a lack of evidence. “She comes in, and she’s just kind of, like, a zombie. And she says, ‘You have a mass behind your left ear the size of a golf ball. We don’t know what it is, we can’t tell until it’s biopsied.'”
Thankfully, the growth turned out to be a benign tumor. But Ruffalo explained that he kept the diagnosis to himself for weeks because of their child’s impending arrival. He ultimately waited until a week after Keen was born — and right before he went into the surgery to remove the tumor — to tell Coigney about his diagnosis.
“When I told Sunny about it, first she thought I was joking,” he shared. “And then she just burst into tears and said, ‘I always knew you were gonna die young.'”
The surgery wasn’t without its risk; Ruffalo shared that doctors warned him there was a 20 percent chance of nicking the nerve on the left side of his face and killing it, as well as a 70 percent chance that he would lose his hearing in that ear — which he did.
The 13 Going on 30 actor recalled waking up to the left side of his face being “totally paralyzed,” and he couldn’t close his eye. Still, he said he counted that as a blessing, adding that he prayed to a God he didn’t really believe in, “Take my hearing, but let me keep the face, and just let me be the father of these kids.”
Ruffalo and Coigney went on to also welcome daughters Bella, 18, and Odette, 16, and the actor was able to keep building up his successful career as well.
Watch the full video of Ruffalo’s appearance on SmartLess below.