"You have cancer. Do you have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad because it took up residence in your anus?" the "Desperate Housewives" star says.
Marcia Cross was diagnosed with anal cancer eight years after her husband, Tom Mahoney, was diagnosed with throat cancer -- a doubly unfortunate situation that might not have been pure coincidence.
Appearing on Wednesday's episode of "CBS This Morning" to discuss her 2017 diagnosis, the 57-year-old "Desperate Housewives" actress revealed doctors are now suspecting that her cancer and her husband's cancer came from the same strain of human papillomavirus, known as HPV, which can be transferred sexually or via skin-to-skin contact.
Now that Cross and Mahoney are both in remission, the actress is on a mission to destigmatize anal cancer and bring awareness to early prevention.
"I was so not thinking anything was wrong because I didn't have any symptoms, and [my gynecologist] gave me a [routine digital rectum] exam and came around and said, 'Well, I just want you to know, whatever it is, it's curable,'" Cross told CBS News medical contributor Dr. Jon LaPook. "You're just like, 'What? What are you talking about?'"
When asked why she felt the need to speak now about her fight with the disease, Cross said, "I know that there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer. Do you have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad because it took up residence in your anus? I mean, c'mon. Really? There's enough on your plate."
Although the medical term for one's bottom may be uncomfortable for some, Cross has had no choice but to "get used to it" and embrace it in its entirety.
"You can say, 'Oh, this is embarrassing, this is uncomfortable,' but by the time you know it, it's over," she said. "I mean, lots of things in life are not fun, but you can bear it."
The actress said she got through her darkest days with the help and support of her "bevy of girl friends," who she playfully calls her "anal angels."
"I kept saying, if this doesn't kill me, it's the best thing that could've ever happened because the experience of being loved like that -- it blew my mind," she said.
So how would Cross' hyper-uptight television character, Bree Van de Kamp, have responded to the diagnosis? "She wouldn't have told a soul," Cross said, adding that "many, many, many people" are just like that.
While the actress said her annual rectal exam saved her life, she wants people to know there are steps they can take before that. Early immunization can prevent the types of HPV that most commonly cause cancer, and she already has plans for her 12-year-old twin daughters to get vaccinated.
"My girls don't know it, but they're up for their first shot at the end of the school year," she said.
To treat her cancer, Cross completed six weeks of radiation and two weeks chemotherapy. Now, she's "doing great."
"I feel back to normal -- though, it's a new normal," she explained. "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."
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