6 Things Marcia Cross Knows About Cancer

The actress advocates for cancer prevention but also has a personal connection to cancer – most recently learning about caregiving for her husband.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 15, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Marcia Cross, the actor best known for her roles on nighttime soaps Desperate Housewives and the original Melrose Place, was recently named an official celebrity ambassador for Stand Up to Cancer, the advocacy group that just awarded $74 million to five multidisciplinary research teams to get us closer to a cure for cancer.

More than 1.4 million Americans face a cancer diagnosis each year, and Cross is no stranger to the condition: Her grandfather, cousin, former longtime partner, and now her husband have all battled it. “Stand Up to Cancer is really Stand Up to Not Getting Cancer,” Cross tells WebMD. She offers these potentially lifesaving tips to help protect you and your family from the disease:

1.Be vigilant.

Skin cancer screenings, mammograms plus monthly breast checks in the shower, colonoscopies, prostate exams ... the list goes on. All have one thing in common: to catch cancer in its earliest stages when it is most treatable. Be sure to discuss with your doctor exactly which screenings you need, then schedule them -- and go.

2. Be proactive, not reactive.

“We should be fighting cancer from a healthy position, before we get that diagnosis,” says Cross. “The chemicals we use, our household cleaners, the foods we eat, our stress levels: Our bodies were not meant to absorb this level of toxicity. We have to wake up!” Cross urges us all to take an honest look at our lifestyles, from our grocery lists to the hours we keep. Our choices could make a difference not just for cancer but for overall health. Are you taking an offensive, as opposed to defensive, position for your health?

3. Be informed.
Cross scoured the Internet and read everything she could find on the subject of her husband’s cancer, even delving into medical journals, now easily available online. “I read so many case histories,” she tells WebMD. “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.”

4. Be your own best advocate.

Remember, you are the expert of your own body -- you know when something doesn’t feel right. Similarly, you likely know your spouse and children better than any doctor ever could. “Doctors are trained to specialize,” says Cross. “Western medicine teaches them to look at the disease, or the single body part" as opposed to the big picture, the whole body in action. If you suspect something is wrong, speak up and don’t relent until you’re satisfied. And if you’re open to alternative approaches, explore them. Find the right treatment for you.

5. Be a good caregiver -- for yourself, too.

“When it comes to marriage ... there’s a ‘we,’ there’s a ‘him,’ and there’s a ‘you.’ And you can’t completely ignore your own needs,” says Cross. Teri Ades, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at the American Cancer Society, couldn’t agree more. “It’s extremely important for caretakers to care for themselves,” Ades says. “Sometimes that means putting your own needs first” to prevent emotional and physical burnout.” For a list of caregiver resources, click here.

6. Don’t be afraid to get help.

A cancer diagnosis can be an overwhelming experience, both emotionally and physically, whether you are the patient or the caregiver. Support groups, online chat rooms, and one-on-one counseling can be important resources during difficult times. WebMD hosts several active online discussion groups for those undergoing cancer treatment as well as caregiverscoping with a loved one’s illness.

As a cancer advocate, Cross wants to educate as many people as possible about how to prevent a cancer diagnosis from ever occurring. What can you do to help? She invites you to email this article to your friends and family with this subject line: Fight Cancer Six Ways With Marcia Cross and WebMD.

Adapted from the cover story of WebMD the Magazine’s October 2009 issue. Read the complete story here.