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Actress Marcia Cross Has a New Role: Cancer Advocate

The Desperate Housewives star is helping lead the fight against cancer in marches, through her advocacy, and with her own family.

Personal Habits and Cancer

Access to information on different approaches -- both traditional and alternative -- is what's key, says Cross. Right after her husband received his diagnosis, she hit the Internet and can't imagine not having it as a resource during their time of crisis. "I read so many case histories," she says. "The amount of information I needed to absorb … I was spouting off other people's experiences to Tom. … It was invaluable. We went into appointments with our doctors already familiar with what they were suggesting. And it offered us a sense of control, too, because we could make informed decisions."

The real question to ask, Cross thinks, is: Why is there so much cancer out there in the first place? That's why she is devoting herself to publicly discussing what was, not so long ago, only whispered about -- as if even saying the C-word out loud served as an invitation for rogue cells to wreak havoc.

Her personal connections to the disease also led her to re-examine how she lives. Cross says she has traded regular cleaners for "vinegar and water … I'm now aware of everything used in my house, everything that gets touched, absorbed into our skin, or ingested." She buys only organic fare and wouldn't dream of eating "junk food or anything processed."

These measures are not possible for everyone, though, and she acknowledges that she's not perfect. "I use organic makeup and do the chemical-free dry cleaning, but I haven't given up my hair dye yet. God knows what it's doing to my scalp. But I'm working on that!"

When a Loved One Gets Cancer

Cross speaks of an "end of innocence" that occurs when we first realize that illness can steal away our loved ones. "I lost my virginity, so to speak, a long time ago," she says, referring to Jordan's shocking diagnosis and death more than 15 years ago.

She's still processing all that's happened since. "When you face this kind of surprise trauma -- followed by loss -- for the first time, it's a double whammy. … So when this happened with Tom, I already knew that every day is a gift, a blessing. I already understood that every day you don't get that terrible phone call with bad test results is a very lucky day. Before Tom's diagnosis, I used to say to him every night, 'We are so lucky. We have each other. We have our babies.'" Cross and Mahoney are parents to 2-year-old twins Eden and Savannah, triumphantly conceived through in-vitro fertilization just one week after the couple married in 2006. "Because," she adds with knowing emphasis, "life can turn on a dime."

As it did last November, when she sat with Mahoney in his doctor's office and together they received the frightening news: It was cancer. As the spouse of someone suddenly sick, Cross went from "just living everyday life to being thrown into this alternate universe of hospitals and doctors and radiation and chemo."

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