In 2009, Marcia Cross was helping her husband, Tom Mahoney, through the grueling treatment for his throat cancer. He went into remission, but nearly a decade later, his disease came up again when Cross was diagnosed with anal cancer. Doctors suspect that both of their cancers came from the same type of HPV, or human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease.
Cross, 57, only learned of the possible connection after she was treated for her anal cancer, she told CBS This Morning on Wednesday. Now in remission, she’s doing anything she can to promote early prevention against HPV, and encouraging people to get the HPV vaccine. With early immunization, kids can start receiving the HPV vaccine at age 9, and her twin daughters, Savannah and Eden, 12, will get their first shot in a few weeks.
Promoting early prevention is just one of the ways Cross is pushing for greater awareness of anal cancer. She decided to speak openly about her experience so others will hopefully be less embarrassed about the disease and get a rectal exam, which is how she learned of her cancer.
“I was so not thinking anything was wrong because I didn’t have any symptoms, and she gave me an exam and came around and said, ‘Well, I just want you to know, whatever it is it’s curable.’ It was like — what?! What are you talking about?” she recalled.
During her treatment, the former Desperate Housewives star leaned on her family and friends for support.
“What I had was a bevy of girlfriends. I called them my ‘anal angels,’” she said. “You know, I kept saying, ‘If this doesn’t kill me, it’s like the best thing that could have ever happened.’ Because the experience of being loved like that — it blew my mind.”
Cross said she’s now “doing great,” a year and a half after her diagnosis.
“I’m feeling back to normal though it’s a new normal,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted. I’m the girl who goes to the bathroom now and I go ‘Yes! It’s great what my body can do! I’m so grateful.’”
Cross also wants people to stop feeling embarrassed about the disease.
“I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! Do you have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad, you know, because it took up residence in your anus?” she said. “I mean, come on, really. There’s enough on your plate.”
Cross admits, though, that she had trouble saying “anal” at first.
“Even for me, it took a while. Anus, anus, anus!” she said with a laugh. “You just have to get used to it.”