'CSI' Star's Mom Helps Keep Her Grounded

But everything wasn't fine. Kay had breast cancer. She had first one breast removed and then the other just a few days later, after doctors learned the cancer had spread.

Marg said the illness was devastating for the family, but, she said, "We got through it. Mom got home and I would have to say a couple of weeks later she was out there mowing the lawn with the old push mower."

Laughing, Kay said she was determined to show her neighbors her fighting spirit. "I think in a little town everybody knows your business before you do, and, I think they thought I was dying. In fact, I even had somebody call for my job. Well, that's when I thought, 'Gosh, you know, I got to prove to somebody that … I'm not dead and I am going to be a survivor.' "

Kay has been cancer free-ever since. But the family's troubles weren't over. Shortly after Kay recovered from her long months of chemotherapy, Marg's father, Hugh, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He lived only a few years after that, but it was long enough to see his daughter break into show business with a role on the ABC soap opera Ryan's Hope.

The Big Break

Marg's big break came when she landed a role on the ABC drama China Beach But the role wasn't the easiest part to tell her devoutly Catholic mother about.

"She said it's about women's perspective in Vietnam," Kay recalls.

When she learned that Marg was playing the role of heroin-addicted prostitute who lived and worked near a military hospital, Kay said she was a bit concerned about what she would tell neighbors.

"I thought, 'Oh, dear.' I said, 'What will I say around here?' And she said 'Well, Mother, I don't think people are going to stone me.' But yeah, people would always say that and then I would always kind of retaliate and say, 'Well, you know, she's an actress and it's better to play one than be one.' And that stopped them."

It's a good bet everyone in North Bend was cheering the night Marg won an Emmy for her role on China Beach.

In her current role on CSI, Marg plays Catherine Willows, who, like her China Beach character, is a woman familiar with the seedier side of life. She's an ex-stripper-turned-scientist trying to balance her career while raising a child as a single mom. It's another role that capitalizes on Marg's blend of smartness and sexiness.

In real life, Marg and her husband, fellow actor Alan Rosenberg, manage to balance two Hollywood careers with parenthood. The couple have been married since 1989, and have a 13-year-old son, Hugh — named for Marg's late father.

With all of her success, it seems Marg has been able to follow her Nebraska mom's example that combines small-town values and a strong spirit.

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