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Elizabeth Tulloch breaks down that tragic Superman & Lois shocker: 'This is very real'

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Tuesday's episode of Superman & Lois, "Uncontrollable Forces."

Superman just met the one villain he can't defeat on Superman & Lois.

The CW's comic book drama began season 3 on quite the romantic and optimistic note as Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) refocused on their marriage and spent a lot of… ahem, steamy one-on-one time together. It got to the point where they started to think Lois might actually be pregnant, and they had to come to terms with starting all over again as parents to a new baby. But by the end of episode 2, Lois learned that not only was she not pregnant, but she was also facing a diagnosis of stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer. As she broke the news to the rest of the Kent family, they all ended the episode in tears and hugging each other.

"Tyler and I were both in Wales doing a convention when I got the call from [showrunners] Todd [Helbing] and Brent [Fletcher] that Lois was going to be not only having breast cancer, but a very, very aggressive, deadly kind of breast cancer," Tulloch tells EW. "And I just knew nothing like that had been done before, to my knowledge anyway, either on screen or in the comics or anything. I felt like it was overall going to be really grounding and an interesting villain to have, because this isn't someone that Clark can just go kick its butt. He's powerless against this, and so is she. I thought it was pretty fascinating to explore."

Elizabeth Tulloch on 'Superman & Lois'
Elizabeth Tulloch on 'Superman & Lois'

Shane Harvey/The CW Elizabeth Tulloch on 'Superman & Lois'

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Inflammatory breast cancer is a very rare type of cancer that is much harder to diagnose and statistically has worse outcomes than any other type of breast cancer. Tulloch knew how important it was to portray this tragic twist authentically, so she spent a lot of time researching the disease and talking to women who have dealt with it. "This is very real. When I found out that I was doing this storyline, one of the supervising directors on my husband's TV show A Million Little Things, Joanna Kerns, set me up with some people, including this oncologist and breast cancer surgeon, Dr. Kristi Funk, which was invaluable," she says. "She set me up with women who were either inflammatory breast cancer survivors or similarly very aggressive late-term breast cancer survivors, and that was amazing. I think I ended up speaking to or interviewing or whatever you want to call it 10 or 11 different women."

At the end of every such phone call, Tulloch would ask the same question: What is the most important thing she can convey to people watching the show when it comes to this type of cancer? "And they all pretty much, without fail, because so many of them were younger, were saying, 'Don't forget to do your mammograms or ultrasounds if you have dense breast tissue, and to do them younger and younger, because younger and younger women are getting diagnosed with this,'" Tulloch says. "I didn't get my first mammogram until this year, and the only reason I even went was because of this storyline, because I started to speak to so many women, and I started to sort of panic myself."

Throughout those conversations as she prepared to film this season, Tulloch started to realize just how real this storyline was for a show about superheroes — and that's what made it all the more impactful. "Even just filming episodes, I've had so many people this season, either guest stars or costars or background or people on the crew who've had cancer themselves, have come up to me after a scene, and I was shocked," she says. "One of our camera operators who subs in sometimes when we're on tandem units had aggressive colon cancer and he was saying, 'Yeah, this is what it's like while you're getting a chemo drip.' We were just talking about our experiences."

Bringing Lois' season 3 arc to life forced Tulloch to reflect on how cancer is much more common than she ever realized. "My grandfather died of cancer, but it hasn't been super prevalent in my life, and really just the realization that this touches everyone was really powerful," she says. "It's a real storyline. This is not a superhero storyline. This is a very real thing that happens to people, and it's a huge part of the season."

As for how this will affect Lois and the rest of the Kent family moving forward, suffice to say it's going to reshape the rest of the season in massive ways. "Lois approaches it the way you might anticipate she would, which is 'I'm not going to let this affect me. I have work to do, I have stuff to do, we have an investigation to do, I have to go after these villains,'" Tulloch says. "And at a certain point she has to face the reality, which is that she's too sick to do everything she wants to be able to do. It's very scary for Clark, who's not used to being afraid of anything, having to deal with this. I would say this brings them a lot closer."

Superman & Lois airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the CW.

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