One morning in 2012, Mindy Cohn’s life changed forever.
“I was walking around my neighborhood in Los Angeles and I suddenly got so tired,” says the actress best known for playing Natalie Green in the ’80s sitcom The Facts of Life. “I just couldn’t go anymore. This was before Uber was really a thing, so I texted my friend Helen Hunt and said, ‘Something’s wrong with me. I need help.’”
Cohn went to the doctor, and a scan showed something in her breast. Before she knew it, she was being biopsied. The news was devastating. “It was breast cancer,” she tells PEOPLE. “I kept that secret for a long time.”
For the next five years, Cohn, now 51, underwent what she now calls a “siege.” She ultimately underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
Before the diagnosis, Cohn had always been the rock-steady center of her circle of friends. The five-year ordeal drained her, however. “I’ve always been an optimist,” she says. “But the cancer metastasized. It kept spreading and coming back. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then it would. And then I’d wait for another shoe to drop, and it would. I was frustrated and enraged. I couldn’t control any of this. I couldn’t fix it.”
Cohn had always kept busy since doing The Facts of Life (In addition to multiple on-camera roles, she did the voice of Velma on the rebooted What’s New, Scooby-Doo for more than a decade), After her diagnosis, she stepped away from Hollywood to recuperate.
Cohn found refuge with her close friends, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, lifestyle gurus best known for their reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys. There, on their 60-acre farm outside Sharon Springs, NY, she found a peaceful place to battle the disease and recover. “They are my family,” she says. “I have my parents, who have always been there for me. And then I have my family by choice, which includes them. We’ll be in each others’ lives forever.”
Today, Cohn is cancer free – and back in Hollywood. She’s become more active on her Twitter and Instagram. She’s healthy enough to plan a trip climbing Machu Picchu with Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge next year. Most of all, she’s looking forward to landing new and interesting acting roles. “I’m feeling great,” she says. “And I’m so ready to get back to working. I think I’m a good actress, and I have a lot to offer. I’m excited to see what I get to do next!”
For more about Cohn’s battle, pick up the latest copy of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.