Actress Marcia Cross is more often found on Wisteria Lane, or the pages of celebrity magazines, but this week, she was found in Washington, D.C., lending her name to the effort to mandate minimum hospital stays for mastectomies.
The Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actress of ABC's "Desperate Housewives" is the new face championing the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Bill of 2007, that would stop "drive-through" mastectomies. In addition to meeting with lawmakers today, she is filming public service announcements to raise awareness of the issue.
"If it puts a face on it and that helps, then I'm the lucky one," Cross said.
Some insurance companies won't cover the costs of hospital stays for more than 24 hours after a mastectomy surgery, the surgical removal of a breast, and sometimes lymph nodes too, as part of breast cancer treatment.
Currently, 20 states mandate minimum hospital stay coverage of 48 hours after a patient undergoes a mastectomy. According to the American Cancer Society, 40,954 women died from breast cancer in 2004 and a woman in the United States has a one in eight chance of developing invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.
"It's wrong. It says something about our value of women in our society and women's health in our society," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of the bill and a survivor of ovarian cancer.
Cross said she first learned about the problem of "drive-through" mastectomies when Lifetime Television approached her and told her it was planning to present 20 million signatures to Congress to bring attention to a piece of legislation that has lingered on Capitol Hill for 12 years without getting passed.
"Shocked. Shocked. I was absolutely shocked," Cross said, describing her reaction "I couldn't understand how it had happened and why this bill had been sitting around."
The bipartisan bill is modeled after a 1996 law that banned "drive-through" baby deliveries, and mandated the length of time a woman spends in a hospital after delivery. Lifetime and lawmakers supporting the mastectomy bill hope that a new advocate - such as Marcia Cross - can help "light a fire" under the 2007 version of the stalled legislation.
The bill would guarantee a minimum hospital stay of 48 hours for a woman having a mastectomy or lumpectomy, the somewhat less invasive procedure that removes part of a breast as a treatment for breast cancer.
"It seems like a very small thing to ask, that a woman have 48 hours care," Cross said.
DeLauro said that as a cancer survivor she can understand what cancer patients are going through. She was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer 20 years ago.
"When you are diagnosed with cancer, I don't care what kind, you stop listening to your doctor. You're screaming internally because you come face-to-face with your own mortality," DeLauro said.
While this is Cross' first appearance on Capitol Hill, it is not her first involvement with breast cancer advocacy. She has been a frequent co-host of the Revlon Run/Walk for Breast Cancer in Los Angeles.
"A friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago," Cross said. "She's doing fine now, but at that time, I started to get involved."