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Interview ó Marcia Cross On Migraines
 

   
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Marcia Cross is enjoying life, marriage, and a successful career as an actress. These days, she's possibly most recognizable as Bree Van De Kamp on "Desperate Housewives."

Marcia is also a Migraineur. You may also have seen her in a television commercial, encouraging you to see a doctor for diagnosis if you have "frequent bad headaches." Last week, we took a look at her tips for Navigating Holidays with Migraines and a bit of her personal history with Migraines. This morning, Marcia was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about Migraine disease, how she handles her Migraines, and why she thinks it's important to be properly diagnosed and treated. Since she was also kind enough to allow me to record that conversation, I can share it with you verbatim...

ROBERT: Good morning. Thank you for setting aside the time to talk with me, Miss Cross.

CROSS: Oh, sure.

ROBERT: I also want to thank you for being willing to share your experiences with Migraine disease. It has to be hard enough to retain your privacy given your celebrity status, but it helps so much when well known public figures are willing to speak out as you are.

CROSS: Youíre welcome. You know itís a good thing and hopefully itís done some good.

ROBERT: Something quite a few of my readers have wondered about is how frequently you have Migraine attacks.

CROSS: Iíve been really lucky lately. I havenít had any since Iíve been pregnant. So I probably wonít a doctor told me who actually knows a lot about Migraines. It doesnít mean I wonít on the other end. I feel like Iíve gotten them down to really minimal, three to four a year. So Iím really doing well, which was not the case in the beginning. It was much more frequently, and Iím sure it would be if I hadnít changed my lifestyle. I really watch stress, and my trigger foods, and all the things I need to do to stay Migraine-free. I just cannot stand that pain. For me, I just have to go home and get in a dark room and wait for it to pass. But waiting for it to pass still involves some pain.

ROBERT: Some? (both laugh) Iíve had Migraines since I was six so I sympathize with you.

CROSS: So how are yours now?

ROBERT: Working with a Migraine specialist, Iím down to about as few as you are.

CROSS: Isnít that unbelievable?

ROBERT: Yes. Isnít it wonderful? We couldnít have this even 10 years ago.

CROSS: No, we couldnít.

ROBERT: Could not have done it. We didnít know enough.

CROSS: No.

ROBERT: Have you been able to manage your Migraines with trigger management and abortive medication, or do you use any over-the-counter or prescription preventives at all?

CROSS: No preventatives, but I carry medicine with me at all times.

ROBERT: From your holiday tips, itís really obvious that you place the appropriately strong emphasis on trigger management.

CROSS: Well, yes, because thatís the time of year when everybody stresses. Needlessly, I might add, because itís really not the point of the holiday. You know, if you donít have the perfect present or if the turkeyís a little overcooked.

ROBERT: No, of course, itís not. Thank you!

CROSS: Itís not worth getting a Migraine over as far as Iím concerned.

ROBERT: Absolutely. Your family wants you, and what good are you with a Migraine?

CROSS: None. Youíre not there.

ROBERT: What are your triggers, Marcia?

CROSS: Oh, gosh. Red wine, chocolate, cheddar cheese, oranges. Those are my mainstays that I just really donít touch. Things can happen too if Ė I donít really drink much, but if I do drink a little too much of anything, alcoholís not good in general. And then being stressed out can definitelyÖ I work really hard now that I donít stress the way that I used to. Iím not as internally tightly wound as I used to be. (laugh)

ROBERT: Donít you think Migraines teach us a lot about ourselves?

CROSS: Yeah, they do! And sometimes what would happen to me in the old days is that I would go through something incredibly stressful forgetting all about it, and I wasnít taking care of myself. And after it was all over was when Iíd get just a searing Migraine. It would kind of wait until the stress peaked, and then when I let go, Iíd get the Migraine. And Iíd be like, gosh, I didnít even realize that Iíd been stressing so badly. Now I donít let that happen.

ROBERT: Did you do an elimination diet to identify food triggers or were they so obvious that you didnít need to do that?

CROSS: I just wrote them down so if they were more than once they seemed pretty obvious over time. But I didnít do that for a long while, which I wish Iíd started earlier, but itís that kind of thing where youíre just kind of a victim to something and then you sort of say, ďNow Iíve gotta do whatever I can to be my own health advocate and change this.Ē I think thatís one of the reasons itís good to speak out because people can do things to be healthier and feel better. Even just getting diagnosed and having medication. I have a friend who would suffer with them and then the husband would run over for my medication. Iíd be like, ďItís too late! Go to the doctor. This happens every two months.Ē Itís just kind of things go along and they think theyíre not going to have another or they donít even know theyíre having them (Migraines). Everybodyís busy. I donít know what it is, but it was like it was not quite bad enough to take care of it, where like for you and I, we had to.

ROBERT: Right. I think part of it is that people donít want to look at Migraine as a disease whereas they wouldnít hesitate to do something if they had thyroid disease or diabetes. So you wonder why is it that they hesitate to do something about Migraine disease.

CROSS: I think itís because they get confused that itís just a headache, a really bad headache. I think you really donít understand how it happens and that itís not; itís something different. I think when people get that in their heads, they can say, ďOh, itís a bad headache.Ē Thatís my guess. You know?

ROBERT: Maybe partly itís because itís an episodic disease. It doesnít affect them every day.

CROSS: Right. So a little time will pass and who wants to go to the doctor? So I think it just slips by.

ROBERT: Other than avoiding your triggers, what lifestyle methods do you use to minimize their impact?

CROSS: I really think that having done a lot of work on my inside has really helped too just because as you get older, you sort of take life with a little more ease. So, any sort of work you do just kind of be at peace with your own day and your own situation is helpful. Having that threat around really keeps things modulated because is it really worth it when you start getting tense or uptight about something? I think that really has made a difference. Yoga, I love to hike, just let things go. Keep things in perspective. A lot of it has to do with how we view whateverís going on with us. One can work oneself up into that amount of stress. Nobody is really doing it to you. You can look at a situation in a completely different way that takes that out of the picture.

ROBERT: I know youíre involved in a campaign encouraging people with ďfrequent bad headachesĒ to see their doctors for diagnosis. In your own words, why is this so important?

CROSS: Gosh, I just thinkÖ I guess because itís been so awful for me, it was so terrible.. I wouldnít say that anymoreÖ Itís been such a painful journey, especially in the beginning when I didnít know what was happening, and I would have those early symptoms of my fingers tingling or that weird peripheral vision thing. I remember not being able to remember my friendsí names or phone numbers when I was with them. Itís absolutely terrifying. You feel like youíre having a stroke or something. I think finding out about it, getting medication, learning to take care of myself -- it puts you in an entirely different place from being a victim of something thatís happening to you. That would be why. Because I feel thereís something you can do about it.

ROBERT: I love so much of what youíre saying because we no longer have to be controlled by this disease. We can control it instead of it controlling us. Thereís so much more we can do for Migraine than we could do for some other diseases.

ROBERT: As weíve learned more about Migraine as a disease, and as we in general have learned so much over the last few years, have you found that attitudes people around have about Migraines are changing?

CROSS: I hope so. I hope people are getting much more educated today about the difference between a Migraine and a headache and the fact that there are things you can do. Certainly when I was younger, I didnít know what it was. I didnít know anything about it. I didnít know to get diagnosed. I didnít know there was anything I could do about it. Hopefully, just the information getting out there and people taking care of it sooner, then that will help.

ROBERT: Then I read about the colleague you worked with on ďMelrose PlaceĒ who told you about the abortive medications?

CROSS: Yes, she had the Imitrex shot, and it was right after that I went to the doctor, and I started taking the pills. So that was a life changer. You really want to try to not even get to that point because itís just better not to.

ROBERT: Iíve read that your husband is really understanding, that you told him about your Migraines early on, and heís super hubby. Heís supportive and takes care of you.

CROSS: He said to me, ďWhat does a headache feel like?Ē because heís never had a headache. Forget about a Migraine, heís never had a headache.

ROBERT: It also sounds like youíve had fairly good luck with doctors, with them taking you seriously?

CROSS: Yes, but it took me a long time to get to one. Yes, but I also have a very classic case with Migraines with the aura, so it was easily diagnosed.

ROBERT: Do you actually go ahead and start your treatment when you notice the aura instead of waiting for the headache?

CROSS: Absolutely immediately, yes.

ROBERT: If you were to speak directly to my readers, is there anything else you would say to them?

CROSS: I would just say not to be a victim and to be your own health advocate, and to take it into your own hands. You actually can affect the number of Migraines you have and your quality of life, and itís worth the effort. It will increase your entire healthy lifestyle and reduce your Migraines, so itís a win-win situation, I think.

ROBERT: What is the worst symptom of the Migraine for you? Is it the headache?

CROSS: Well, certainly thatís the most painful, but the most frightening really used to be the loss of my short-term memory or the ability to think. They donít start that severely any more. They just start with the aura, but it used to be that would just terrify me. Itís a different kind of pain, and thereís the fear and that terror that youíre losing your mind. So there are two extremes (the headache and effects on thinking), but neither pleasant.

ROBERT: Thank you again for your time and being so open with us.

CROSS: Oh, youíre welcome.
 

As Marcia mentioned, getting a diagnosis for your "headaches" is essential. Along with other information on our site, you can also go to www.headachequiz.com to take a quiz and get more information to help you when talking with your doctor.

 

Note: Marcia Cross is a paid spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline.

Published November 13, 2006
© Teri Robert

 

 
 
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