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Marcia Cross | Source: Getty Images
Marcia Cross | Source: Getty Images

Why Marcia Cross, Star Of 'Desperate Housewives,' Fought For Her Life And Lost Her Hair — Details

Milla Sigaba
Jun 27, 2024
09:50 A.M.
  • Marcia Cross received a shocking diagnosis during a routine medical exam.
  • The "Desperate Housewives" star then endured grueling treatments that led to losing her hair.
  • Explore the details of the actress's harrowing journey over the years, and why she recently sparked divided opinions.
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Marcia Cross is commonly known for playing the perfect homemaker, Bree Van de Kamp, in the hit series, "Desperate Housewives." However, behind the scenes, the actress's life was far from perfect. In 2018, Marcia Cross was diagnosed with anal cancer.

This fight for her life followed the heartbreaking passing of her fiancé and her husband's cancer diagnosis years before. Now an anal cancer advocate, the actress's recent appearance caught social media users' attention. While some said she looked "amazing," others stated she looked to be in her 90s.

Marcia Cross on the set of "Quantico" on December 6, 2016. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross on the set of "Quantico" on December 6, 2016. | Source: Getty Images

Triumphs and Tragedy in Marcia Cross's Early Career

Cross was born on March 25, 1962, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. From a young age, she dreamed of becoming an actress. This passion led her to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

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Naturally gifted and determined, the future star graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Cross then began her career in 1984 when she joined the cast of the daytime soap opera "The Edge of Night." The show ended just six months after she joined.

Marcia Cross, circa 1985. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross, circa 1985. | Source: Getty Images

However, it marked the beginning of significant roles that built Cross's reputation. By 1985, she had starred opposite Carroll O'Connor in the television film "Brass." Soon after, the actress secured the lead role in "Pros & Cons" alongside Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Continuing to build her resume, Cross starred in "The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James" in 1986 alongside Willie Nelson. Her talent and versatility were increasingly recognized. This led to her role in "One Life to Live" that same year.

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Marcia Cross as Kate in "One Life to Live," circa 1986. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross as Kate in "One Life to Live," circa 1986. | Source: Getty Images

The actress then starred in the 1990 thriller "Bad Influence," alongside Rob Lowe and James Spader. By 1991, Cross had joined "Knots Landing," cementing her status as a talented actress.

However, it was her role as Dr. Kimberly Shaw on "Melrose Place" that catapulted her to widespread fame. Joining the cast in 1992, Cross became a central figure on the show. The program then went on to become a pop culture phenomenon of the 1990s.

Marcia Cross and the cast of "Melrose Place," circa 1996. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross and the cast of "Melrose Place," circa 1996. | Source: Getty Images

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Starring alongside Heather Locklear and Courtney Thorne-Smith, Cross emerged as a fan favorite. However, during her professional success, Cross faced a significant personal challenge. In 1993, her fiancé, actor Richard Jordan, passed away due to a brain tumor.

Richard Jordan on set of the movie "Romero," circa 1989. | Source: Getty Images

Richard Jordan on set of the movie "Romero," circa 1989. | Source: Getty Images

This heartbreaking tragedy occurred just months after their engagement. Cross shared, "So when I was 31, I had been dating a wonderful man, an actor, Richard Jordan, and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died."

The loss of Jordan was a devastating blow to Cross. "At that time, there was no internet. I remember going to the Beverly Hills public library and reading that it was terminal. It broke me in a different way," she said.

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Marcia Cross at the grand opening of Planet Hollywood Beverly Hills on September 17, 1995. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross at the grand opening of Planet Hollywood Beverly Hills on September 17, 1995. | Source: Getty Images

The grief from losing her fiancé left a lasting impact on Cross, and it took her nearly a decade to recover fully. "My friends all then went off and fell in love and got married and lived their 30s, and I was 31, and it took me a decade to recover. I really could not find my way after that," the actress shared.

Despite the immense personal loss, Cross's resilience shone through as she continued to work. The actress left "Melrose Place" to get her Master's Degree in Psychology. However, she continued acting from 1997 to 2003.

Marcia Cross and Lori Loughlin at Salvatore Ferragamo's Beverly Hills store on October 16, 2002, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross and Lori Loughlin at Salvatore Ferragamo's Beverly Hills store on October 16, 2002, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

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She starred in "Dancing in September" in 2000, a critically acclaimed film. This performance landed the actress the lead role in "Living in Fear" in 2001. Two years later, Cross was cast in "The Wind Effect," a disturbing film about family.

The actress eventually landed the iconic role of Bree Van de Kamp in "Desperate Housewives." Cross's portrayal of Bree earned her numerous award nominations. This included an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a Golden Satellite Award, and a Television Critics Association Award.

Marcia Cross at The 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 16, 2006. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross at The 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 16, 2006. | Source: Getty Images

Finding Love Again and Welcoming Children After Tragedy

Amid her professional achievements, Cross's personal life also flourished when she met stockbroker Tom Mahoney. The couple was first spotted together in March 2005 during a weekend ski trip to Deer Valley, Utah.

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Their relationship quickly blossomed, and Cross soon realized that Mahoney was the one for her. In an interview with PEOPLE, she recalled the sweet moment this realization hit her.

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross seen on March 26, 2006, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross seen on March 26, 2006, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

The couple was playing a word game in bed the night before the Emmy nominations were announced. "He told me the next day he was doing it so I wouldn't be nervous," she said. "It was very sweet."

Cross also attributed her radiant looks during this time to her happiness with Mahoney. "My favorite beauty product is my fiancé, Tom," she told PEOPLE in April 2005. "It's true. I think that beauty comes from being happy and connected to the people we love, and his love makes me feel beautiful."

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the InStyle and Warner Bros. 2006 Golden Globes After Party  in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the InStyle and Warner Bros. 2006 Golden Globes After Party in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

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Their deep connection and love for each other were evident to those around them. This included Cross's "Desperate Housewives" co-star Eva Longoria. The actress was the one who confirmed the couple's engagement in August 2005.

"She's over the moon," Longoria said. "I'm so excited for her. It's so beautiful to see her this happy and so in love," she added. By June 2006, Cross and Mahoney had tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony.

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 16, 2007, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on September 16, 2007, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

"They're very happy," a rep for Cross told PEOPLE. The wedding took place at the Church of Our Savior Episcopal Parish in San Gabriel, California.

The actress reportedly wore a stunning gown by Reem Acra. Instead of traditional bridesmaids, Cross had seven flower girls, ranging in age from 3 to 12. The couple's first dance at the reception was to the song "At Last."

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Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the BlackBerry Curve from AT&T Launch Party on May 31, 2007. | Source: Getty Images

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the BlackBerry Curve from AT&T Launch Party on May 31, 2007. | Source: Getty Images

Shortly after their wedding, Cross and Mahoney welcomed their fraternal twin girls. Eden and Savannah were born in February 2007. The girls were born in Los Angeles about six weeks early.

Despite the early arrival, Cross's representative confirmed, "Mother and babies are all doing well." Over the years, Cross was often spotted out and about with her beautiful girls.

Marcia Cross photographed with her twin daughters on November 8, 2010, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross photographed with her twin daughters on November 8, 2010, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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Battling Cancer and the Journey to Recovery

In November 2017, Cross received a diagnosis that would once again test her strength and resilience. She underwent a standard rectal exam during a routine visit to her gynecologist. This exam revealed a cancerous mass.

In a 2019 interview, Cross recounted the moment her doctor came around the curtain and broke the news. With a reassuring tone, Cross's doctor told her that whatever it was, it was curable. This unexpected news left Cross feeling dumbfounded and anxious about the path ahead.

Marcia Cross opening up about her journey with anal cancer. | Source: YouTube/CBS Mornings

Marcia Cross opening up about her journey with anal cancer. | Source: YouTube/CBS Mornings

Following the diagnosis, Cross underwent a grueling treatment regimen. It included six weeks of radiation therapy and two weeks of chemotherapy. Throughout this challenging time, the actress leaned heavily on her closest friends for support.

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Her daughters, although a source of comfort, initially struggled with the news. "I have the most wonderful daughters, but their initial reactions were anger. You don't know how to process it, it's bad news," Cross shared.

"Eventually, they were so loving and supportive of course, but in the first moment … you're not supposed to be that person, you're the mother! You're not supposed to be sick," the actress continued.

This was not the first time cancer had struck the actress's household. In 2009, Cross's husband was diagnosed with throat cancer. Reflecting on that period, Cross said, "I would be, like, working all day. I would be in the emergency room at night. Plus I had two toddlers, so it was a busy time."

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross spotted in Brentwood on October 24, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross spotted in Brentwood on October 24, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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Mahoney's treatment was rigorous but ultimately successful, putting him in remission. However, neither Cross nor Mahoney realized that the same type of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that likely triggered his cancer was also linked to her anal cancer.

According to the CDC, as of 2019, HPV was responsible for over 90% of certain cancer cases, including those of the cervix, genitals, throat, and anus. This virus spreads through sexual contact or even skin-to-skin contact.

Marcia Cross at the "Rock A Little, Feed A Lot" Benefit Concert on September 29, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross at the "Rock A Little, Feed A Lot" Benefit Concert on September 29, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Throughout Cross's battle with cancer, Mahoney remained a steadfast pillar of support. "My husband … he's a doer, probably like most men. He took care of those kids. He was fantastic. When I needed him, I would say, 'I need you now,'" the actress shared.

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However, despite his unwavering support, Cross later realized that she had not fully grasped the emotional toll her illness took on Mahoney. "My husband had already been traumatized and then he was around me going through it," Cross said.

Marcia Cross and Tom Mahoney at the launch party for the BlackBerry 8330 Pink Curve on August 27, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross and Tom Mahoney at the launch party for the BlackBerry 8330 Pink Curve on August 27, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

"It didn't even occur to me until a doctor said, 'You know, this might be bringing up a lot of feelings for your husband.' I was like, 'Oh!' Because, of course, all I was thinking about was myself!" the actress continued.

Several months after completing her treatment, Cross faced another distressing challenge. She noticed her hair started to fall out. "It was disconcerting," the actress said. Cross was initially told that the type of chemotherapy she received typically did not cause hair loss.

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Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the Governors Ball for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards on September 21, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Tom Mahoney and Marcia Cross at the Governors Ball for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards on September 21, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

However, her doctor suspected the hair loss was due to telogen effluvium, a condition caused by stress. Despite trying to remain optimistic, the shedding did not cease. Cross initially found it difficult to cope with this visible reminder of her ordeal.

However, the actress soon had a change of heart. In September 2018, Cross publicly disclosed her anal cancer diagnosis for the first time. The actress shared a candid photo on Instagram in which she opened up about her hair loss. This triggered an outpour of support from her followers.

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"So grateful and happy to be alive but sad that my hair fell out and is about 1 inch long now and looks cra cra. Anyone else have #hairloss due to #cancer? Talk to me. I feel you. Xxoo m❤️❤️❤️," she wrote in the caption.

"I am so sorry this happened to you! 😞 Prayers up," one person typed. "Marcia, you are so strong in every sense, really I'm so proud of you! You are my admirer, my muse, My inspiration! 🌸💖," another social media user shared.

Marcia Cross seen on May 25, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross seen on May 25, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

"Sister warrior, thank you for your support in fighting our horrible cancer❤️," a third commented. "By the way... you look gorgeous, you are already on your way to a quick recovery. Sending prayers your way, but you truly look great. God bless you🙏🙏🙏🙏❤️," a fourth shared.

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"So So sorry. Hey, it grows back. You're beautiful no matter🤗," another person commented. "Still beautiful though. Prayers. My youngest daughter is battling now," a sixth sweetly wrote.

From Cancer Survivor to Activist: Redefining Strength and Beauty

Both Cross and her husband have come out on the other side following their respective battles with cancer. Reflecting on their journey, Cross remarked, "Dealing with cancer in a marriage, it's complicated. It takes a lot of patience and love."

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Marcia Cross and Tom Mahoney at Pelican Hill Resort on December 31, 2010, in Newport Beach, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross and Tom Mahoney at Pelican Hill Resort on December 31, 2010, in Newport Beach, California. | Source: Getty Images

Almost a year and a half after her anal cancer diagnosis, Cross started to feel like herself again. However, she described this as a new version of herself. Embracing her new identity, Cross has been spotted attending cancer-related events.

Marcia Cross at the Hollywood Unites for the 5th Biennial Stand Up To Cancer event on September 9, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross at the Hollywood Unites for the 5th Biennial Stand Up To Cancer event on September 9, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

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The actress has also used her platform to advocate for greater awareness and acceptance of anal cancer. "I want to help put a dent in the stigma around anal cancer. [...] There is a lot of shame about it. I want that to stop," she declared.

Cancer-free with a low probability of it coming back, Cross also became much kinder and more loving to herself than ever before. "I got a clear scan, and then I heard my critical voice start to attack myself, which it has done my whole life," the actress said.

Marcia Cross at the Farrah Fawcett Foundation's Tex-Mex Fiesta on September 6, 2019, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross at the Farrah Fawcett Foundation's Tex-Mex Fiesta on September 6, 2019, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Getty Images

"I thought, 'So you're going to get to live and then you're going to do that?'And for the first time, I thought, 'No. That critical voice is no longer acceptable. It is no longer allowed. That is the real cancer,'" Cross continued.

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Marcia Cross on "Celebrity Wheel of Fortune" on December 30, 2021. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross on "Celebrity Wheel of Fortune" on December 30, 2021. | Source: Getty Images

In March 2024, Cross took another bold step in redefining her public image. She walked on the runway during the Vetements Fall/Winter show at Paris Fashion Week. The "Desperate Housewives" star was a vision in red.

She proved that at 61, she still possessed the grace and charm that have captivated audiences for decades. Gross was dressed head to toe in a sparkling red, bedazzled floor-length dress. The dress had long sleeves that ended in gloves and a meter-long train.

Marcia Cross walking the runway during the Vetements Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 1, in France. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross walking the runway during the Vetements Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 1, in France. | Source: Getty Images

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Cross's stunning performance on the runway drew admiration from many. Comments poured in, with fans praising her resilience and timeless beauty. "Marcia is amazing," one admirer wrote. Another complimented her appearance, saying, "She's got lovely skin."

Others expressed their joy at seeing her again, noting, "Great to see her! Lovely!" Another person typed, "I think Marcia looks pretty good for 61 and a cancer survivor." However, the response was not universally positive.

Marcia Cross walking the runway during the Vetements Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 1, in France. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross walking the runway during the Vetements Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 1, in France. | Source: Getty Images

Some online users made less flattering comments, reflecting the often harsh reality of public scrutiny. "Wow. 61? I would have guessed 81," remarked one critic. Another said, "Marcia Cross… 61 going on 91." A third added, "Really don't mean to be rude but I really thought she was a lot older."

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Marcia Cross walking the runway during the Vetements Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 1, in France. | Source: Getty Images

Marcia Cross walking the runway during the Vetements Ready to Wear Fall/Winter 2024-2025 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 1, in France. | Source: Getty Images

Despite the divided opinions, Marcia Cross continues to inspire countless individuals. She went from a successful actress to a cancer survivor and advocate. This shows her great resilience and dedication.

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The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, and images contained on news.AmoMama.com, or available through news.AmoMama.com is for general information purposes only. news.AmoMama.com does not take responsibility for any action taken as a result of reading this article. Before undertaking any course of treatment please consult with your healthcare provider.

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