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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.

Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

What is the biggest responsibility of caregiving? "You have to be there as a person," Cross says. Still, when "being there" means tackling a mountain of medical details, sleeping in waiting rooms during surgeries, and offering emotional sustenance to your spouse -- even as you tend to the needs of your children, go to work, and maintain a household, all while staving off your own internal terror -- burnout quickly ensues, both mental and physical.

"It's extremely important for caregivers to care for themselves," Ades tells WebMD. "Sometimes this means putting your own needs first. It can include joining an online support group to talk to other caregivers and share experiences. Or it can mean reaching out to others in your family, or at work or church.

"But first you need to honestly assess how thoroughly you can assume this new role, because -- and this is really important -- not everyone is born to be a caregiver. Seek help for what you can't take on."

If you are currently caring for a sick spouse, relative, or friend, Ades recommends joining an online caregivers discussion group. WebMD.com hosts an active caregiving support message board. Other caregiving support networks include American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org); Cancer Care (www.cancercare.org); Caregivers4Cancer (www.caregivers4cancer.com); and Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org).

Marcia Cross's Twins

Eden and Savannah are clearly their parents' delight. Cross delivered them in February 2007 after 10 long weeks of bed rest. That was prescribed by her ob-gyn because she developed preeclampsia, a condition with high blood pressure and protein in the urine that can endanger the health of both mother and child. But even dealing with the stresses of the last year, Cross has found more joy and relief than burdens when it comes to caring for her twins.

Asked what she finds most surprising about motherhood, Cross pauses, then says, "As much as I wanted them, I guess I'm surprised at how fulfilling I find it. And there are these moments that are so sweet and profound. Like last night, Savannah helped me put Eden to bed first, and she sang three or four songs to her sister, who was lying in her crib. … You get these amazing moments all the time."

As for what's toughest about being a mom, she answers readily: "Guilt. I know they don't need me every single second of the day … but I also know how every phase is so fleeting. And I hate missing any of it! But I'm blessed … I've been able to juggle it all. It's been tricky, of course. I might have a really long 12- or 14-hour day where I won't see them at all, but then I'll have two or three days off. And I bring them on the set. They come to the trailer, which is no easy feat. But I've worked it out."

The only parenting philosophy Cross applies, besides never letting her kids play in the California sunshine without wearing sunhats, SPF 50, and long sleeves, is a simple one: "Really love 'em -- then let 'em go." She adds, "They're going to be who they're going to be. And that's the beauty of parenthood." Spoken like a caregiver -- to her family, herself, and to all those who benefit from her work to end the scourge of cancer -- who knows what she's doing.

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