Marcia Cross wants to help end ‘the stigma around anal cancer’

The 5th Biennial Stand Up To Cancer
Marcia Cross, 57, is a cancer survivor. Last September she first revealed that she was in recovery and healthy after treatment for anal cancer and was in the process of growing her hair back following chemotherapy. She posted messages to Instagram with photos of her hair and a wig and cap she was trying. Now she’s ready to open up more. She talked to People Magazine about her health and said that she hopes to bring awareness to anal cancer as many women especially are too embarrassed to say the name.

The former Desperate Housewives star, 57, says that the experience changed her — after three months of “gnarly” treatment and several more of finding her new normal, the self-described “introverted extrovert” decided to share her story publicly.

“I want to help put a dent in the stigma around anal cancer,” she says. “I’ve read a lot of cancer-survivor stories, and many people, women especially, were too embarrassed to say what kind of cancer they had. There is a lot of shame about it. I want that to stop.”

Cross learned that she had anal cancer in Nov. 2017 during her annual checkup with her gynecologist. Her doctor administered a digital rectal exam and immediately sent Cross to a colon and rectal surgeon. Two biopsies later, doctors confirmed that she had anal cancer, and started her on six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.

“Surgery wasn’t recommended, which was a relief. You want to preserve sphincter muscles if possible,” she says. “Having woken up to its importance, I am now a big fan of the anus!”

Cross read that the treatment would be “difficult,” so she made a point to find the humor in everything.

“In the beginning, I just sort of lay down for the parting of the cheeks and I would float away,” she says, laughing. “Because what are you going to do?”

Now nearly a year in remission and with a low chance of a recurrence, according to her doctor, Cross is grateful to have everything working properly.

“Every time I go to the bathroom, I think, ‘That’s awesome! Thank you, body,’ ” she says.

And she wants people to be aware of the symptoms — which can include anal bleeding, pain, itching and lumps — so they they can discuss any concerns with their doctor.

“If something doesn’t feel right, listen to your body and talk to your doctor,” says Cross. “Don’t let it go. It’s a very curable cancer if caught early, which mine was.”

“If you or a loved one are diagnosed, the Anal Cancer Foundation is an amazing resource,” she adds. “And one I turned to often.”

[From People]

That’s so cute how she thanks her body when she goes to the bathroom and describes seeing the doctor as a “parting of the cheeks.” I’m glad to hear she’s ok now and that they caught it early for her. If I had anal cancer I would have trouble talking about it at first too I think. There’s a lot of stigma around the word for some reason. I was going to ask if anal cancer could be called “rectal cancer” or something similar, but the rectum is different from the anus. Colorectal cancer affects the colon and rectum. This cancer is specific to the anus and anal area. I found an old-timey euphemism for the anus, “fundament,” which is new to me. So they possibly could call it “fundament cancer,” but no one would know what that meant and it’s not a medical term.

The 5th Biennial Stand Up To Cancer

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40 Responses to “Marcia Cross wants to help end ‘the stigma around anal cancer’”

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  1. Torontoe says:

    Whoops…it’s Marcia. Good for her and glad she’s doing well

  2. Hnmmom says:

    Glad she’s doing so well. Wishing her many, many healthy years ahead.

  3. LaraK says:

    She is so right – we are brought up with so much shame about our bodies, especially women.
    I’m raising my daughter with all the proper terms for her body parts, and so far she has no qualms about telling me that her vagina itches (she had a minor infection). I’m hoping this carries into adulthood so she can care for her health.
    That said, I also involuntarily blushed when I read the words anal cancer. I’m going to re read this article a couple of times to condition myself to stop being dumb.

  4. FHMom says:

    I would be completely embarrassed, too. I’m glad she is talking about it, because like all cancers it sucks. I wish her continued good health.

    • Esmom says:

      I’m glad, too. She did a really good job of talking about it with the perfect mix of humor and seriousness.

      If I remember correctly, this is the same disease that took Farrah Fawcett. I’m glad Marcia is doing so well.

      • Nancy says:

        Farrah Fawcett is who came to mind for me as well. That was about ten years ago and I imagine there are treatments available that Marcia had that weren’t around then. I don’t see a stigma. Cancer is the monster that looms around our genes and can strike anywhere on anyone at any time. I wish her, and all cancer patients and survivors the best. #fcancer

    • stormsmama says:

      so true
      when i was growing up my mom had Breast Cancer- this was early 80s and at the time – though its hard to imagine now- people didn’t say breast out loud- they certainly didn’t say it on tv!- and if you said the word breast people snickered or blushed –
      it is brave of her to talk openly but it is also necessary bc the more we talk about it the less snickering and blushing and stigma attached to it

      • Emilia says:

        Sounds like my aunt who died 15 years ago and refused to tell the family what kind of cancer she had. We only knew it was a “women’s cancer” and because of that it wasn’t “appropriate” or “proper” to discuss. Unbelievably ridiculous and frustrating because when compiling your family medical history you want to be able to track any kind of patterns or recurring illnesses to determine if it’s something you have to worry about too.

    • jules says:

      Yea cancer is cancer…she has a great sense of humor about it, glad she is speaking out.

    • kim says:

      my mom was embarrassed when she got colon (rectal) cancer and had radiation and chemo before they removed her intestines, colon, sewed up her anus. She had a large tumor that closed off the anus as well. She received a bag to attach to her Beautifully healthy stoma. I think my personality helped get her fear and embarrassment over real fast. I’d say, “…Man too bad you didn’t get a ‘cool’ cancer that has special shirts and designers!” or “…at least your cancer color goes with more stuff…” “you always wanted a tatoo!” just tongue and cheek things to make her laugh. She died one year after her diagnosis and it spreading to her liver. Between taking her to the bathroom, giving her shots in the stomach, and so much more I find it so easy to talk about pooper hatch in the back cancer!! There is zero to be embarrassed about!! it is about survival after all!!

      she had regular colonoscopies until the year her doctor told her she should skip it. By the next year at her check up she had cancer. Doctors arent always right…

  5. Lightpurple says:

    Wishing Marcia good health.

  6. Jenns says:

    I’m glad she talked about this. She’s right, you hear very little about anal cancer. I had no idea what the symptoms were until I read this. And as someone who has issues with fissures and hemorrhoids, it’s good to know because i would probably just brush off those symptoms if I experienced them.

  7. Adrien says:

    I have nothing to add except that Marcia Cross has such a perfect face. 57, wow!

  8. CharliePenn says:

    So important to talk about these things, especially because incidents of anal, rectal, and colorectal cancer are on the steady incline and are affecting younger and younger people. I think we can thank the processed toxic food, overall terrible American diet, and the exhausting stressful lifestyle most Americans lead. But early detection is the most important thing, and so the more it’s discussed the better for everyone.
    I’m so glad for her that she has survived it. What a wonderful, positive spirit!

    • raptor says:

      You’re absolutely right, these diseases are beginning to trend younger and younger, and knowing the symptoms I’d so important to early detection, since there’s no routine screening in younger age groups.

      I had a colonoscopy a year ago, at 33. I’m fit, have a low BMI, and eat a plant-based diet, and I still ended up having a polyp removed that ended up being high risk for colorectal cancer. I now have to have follow up colonoscopies every three years, and I wouldn’t have known I had the polyp if I hadn’t been persistent in my insistence on being screened. None of the doctors I saw thought it was necessary given my age, health, and medical history. It’s scary how all of this can go unnoticed.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I used to know a doctor whose specialty was colorectal cancer, and they said that they chose that specialty because it was the easiest form of cancer to treat, but because of embarrassment, too many people ignored symptoms and avoided screenings.

      No kind of cancer should be treated embarrassing. People like Marcia speaking out really helps remove the stigma.

  9. Mash says:

    I remember when i just got accepted to college about a decade or more ago and had HPV….precancerous cells… it was soooo hard to talk about ….like trying to talk to friends like (yea my cervix is showing wonky cells so yea may dev into cancer) and i felt so ashamed to even discuss it.

  10. KHLBHL says:

    The majority of anal cancers arise from HPV (the same types that are associated with cervical cancer), so all the more reason for all of us to encourage widespread vaccination and safe sexual practices, especially amongst young people.

    • elimaeby says:

      Preach! I grew up in a super-religious, no-sex-until-you’re-married family. I will remain grateful until the day I die for the local doctor’s office. A nurse named Sandra managed to shuffle my mother out of the exam room when I was getting my college boosters to have her “sign some paperwork at the desk” because my mother was adamant that I was NOT getting the HPV vaccine.

      Sandra explained the importance of it to me, that was ultimately my choice, we could do it right then, and my mom would never have to know. I decided to do it. I had never been sexually active up until that point (the best time to have it done). It’s been such a comfort knowing I had it done, and I learned so much about my bodily autonomy and sexual health that day. Thanks, Sandra!

    • Deedee says:

      Thank you. This is so true.

  11. tuille says:

    My beloved s-i-l died of anal cancer, very advanced by the time she went to a doctor. She ignored what she thought were hemorrhoids. Despite surgery, radiation, and chemo, including participation in a clinical trial, she died before she was 50.
    Kudos to Marcia for helping to raise awareness & best wishes for her continued good health.

  12. Kaye says:

    Isn’t this what Farrah Fawcett had?

  13. Lisabella says:

    Exactly Kaye, unfortunately Farrah did not want chemotherapy at first due to the hair loss – and Ryan O’ Neal was not helpful in convincing her to get chemotherapy – he was concerned about her losing her hair as well…

    • Nancy says:

      I didn’t hear that. I read she had six weeks of extensive therapy and five weeks later was declared cancer free. Sadly, when she had a routine check-up, another cancerous polyp was found. Both anal cancer and recurrence is rare, so she was unlucky. This is when she started going to Germany for other treatments but it was learned the cancer spread to her liver. It doesn’t care how beautiful, rich, popular, any of the above you are, cancer doesn’t discriminate. RIP Farrah. Stay healthy Marcia…

    • Kate says:

      Marcia is a hero to me in bringing this to light…..wish Farrah had swallowed her vanity and dealt with the effects of chemo. My surgeon heard medical reports that she could have beaten it as well, no guarantees, but the treatments Marcia and I had were available then. So sad that her self image cost her life, and that slime ball, Ryan, appeared to care more about her looks than her healthy survival.

      I’m a colorectal cancer survivor of 2 years, and reading Marcia’s testimony gave me goose bumps in bringing a very embarrassing and intimate diagnosis to the forefront. Have never really been a fan of Marcia, but I am now!

      • Nancy says:

        Good for you Kate. You slayed the dragon! I never heard about the vanity issues involving Farrah or Ryan. After reading @Lisabella’s post above, I went searching. All I saw was what I posted. I hope it isn’t true, shame if it is.

      • Kate says:

        Nancy, I just did a little research myself and found perhaps it was much more than vanity for Farrah, if the several reports I read are true. Supposedly a colostomy, (in my case an ileostomy) was to be a large part of the treatment.

        I only wore one for 9 weeks — and one of the worst experiences of my life. I barely left home the entire time, so afraid of humiliating accidents. I can totally understand why she chose alternatives, and why suicide is sometimes considered if they are irreversible. I read hers would not have been.

        Two years out, I feel lucky to be here and have my health back. And I feel guilty speaking badly of Farrah in quoting gossip.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I had a male co-worker that giggled (seriously) as he implied that Farrah’s cancer was probably caused by anal sex. It made me so angry. I chewed him out for how inappropriate and scientifically wrong he was being, but it still makes me angry to this day.

      • Deedee says:

        He wasn’t wrong about the majority of anal cancers being related to anal sex. It’s estimated that between 85 to 90% of anal Ca is due to HPV, which is sexually transmitted via anal sex. But the very fact that he was snickering tells you a lot about why people are embarrassed to talk about it.

  14. Anne says:

    I love Marcia, she is an amazing lady and I am so glad she is doing fine now. All the best things for her. <3

  15. Abby says:

    One of my dearest friends was just diagnosed with anal cancer right before Christmas. He is just finishing up 6 weeks of radiation and it’s been really difficult. I’m glad Marcia is normalizing this kind of cancer and sharing her experience.

  16. Lakegirl says:

    I was treated for anal cancer 16 years ago and was deeply ashamed. The protocol is the same today, chemo and radiation daily and then just daily radiation for four weeks followed by one more week of chemo and radiation, six weeks in total. Your hair does not fall out as it is a milder form of chemo but, the radiation is horrific. Of course because one feels ashamed/embarrassed it is difficult to discuss the effects with friends etc. I applaud Marsha but I believe it will take years before people are less ashamed. So get the HPV vaccine!

  17. Kay Hendricks says:

    You are also more at risk if you smoke. Another good reason to quit.

  18. 10KTurtle says:

    I have multiple autoimmune disorders and I decided I could either cry about it or laugh about it, so I try to laugh about it. I refer to my colonoscopies as “anal probes,” it makes my friends and the medical staff laugh too. I hope that if people can see that I’m not ashamed about it, then if they ever need to talk about it then they won’t feel ashamed either. Regarding HPV, more people need to understand/accept how very common it is in every population (no matter how careful you are!) and recognize when it needs medical treatment.

  19. Loca says:

    Loved her on desperate housewives. I wish her the best and continued health. Hopefully if people all work together we can find more cures so no one has to suffer. Love her woods post looks happy and beautiful.

  20. Lisabella says:

    Kate, the colonostomy suggestion was after her inital diagnosis. Farrah’s initial diagnosis her Hem/Onc advised her to begin chemotherapy. She went against his advice.
    It was later when she was given the colonostomy advice that Farrah began chemotherapy…

  21. tealily says:

    I feel like rectal cancer and colorectal cancer have less of a stigma around the words, and I think it has to do with the regularity with which they’re discussed. I applaud her for normalizing anal cancer as well.