The “Poor Things” star had only been married to Sunrise Coigney for a year when he found out in June 2001 and revealed Monday on the “Smartless” podcast that he didn’t tell her for two weeks as she was pregnant with their first son Keen.
How Ruffalo discovered the lump behind his ear, meanwhile, was as lucky as it was baffling.
“I just had this crazy dream,” he said on the podcast. “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.’”
The father of three, who was 33 years old at the time, saw a doctor that same day.
“I said, ‘Listen, this is going to sound crazy, but I had this dream last night that I had a brain tumor,’” he said Monday about requesting a CAT scan. “She comes in and she’s just kind of like a zombie and she says, ‘You have a mass behind your ear the size of a golf ball.’”
A following biopsy revealed the lump as an acoustic neuroma, or noncancerous tumor on the main nerve from the inner ear to the brain that can affect both hearing and balance. Ruffalo previously told the Acoustic Neuroma Association how terrifying the diagnosis was.
“It was scary, obviously,” he told the nonprofit in 2013. “And I also had an odd bit of shame about it, or fear about it, and how it would be perceived — especially in my profession. So I didn’t really tell anybody. I told my best friend … my manager … and I told my family.”
Ruffalo and Coigney have been married for 24 years and share three children.
Ruffalo said Monday his wife tearfully told him: “I always knew you were gonna die young.”
While Ruffalo survived, he was forced to confront some difficult facts by going under the knife: There was a 20% chance that accidental nerve damage could leave the left side of his face without expression and a 70% chance of hearing loss in that ear.
The actor ultimately did lose hearing in his left ear, but has since become one of the most recognizable actors of his generation — with four Oscar nominations under his belt. Ruffalo said Monday that only his children were in his thoughts before undergoing surgery.
“Take my hearing,” he recalled thinking, “but let me keep the face, and just let me be the father of these kids.”