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Cancer Health Center

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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.

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."

Still, "An odd competence took over me immediately," she says from her home in Los Angeles, where she is currently resting -- if one can "rest" with two toddlers in tow -- during a hiatus from her weekly Desperate Housewives series. "When you become the caregiver to your spouse ... there's no time to wallow. You have to be on the ball. For the first six months, I managed with a mix of denial and just total competence, dealing with what had to be done every day. ... Only now am I going through a posttraumatic-stress reaction, crying a lot, dealing with my own fears, thinking about how hard it was to watch him suffer. Only now do I find I'm tender trying to talk about it."

Cross's experience isn't at all surprising, says Terri Ades, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "What happens typically with a cancer diagnosis is that the 'machine' starts up very quickly. Everything goes into motion -- the treatment, the patient's needs -- at a very rapid pace. There is no time to stop and think."

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