Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones learned firsthand the emotional toll cancer takes on a patient and their family when her husband, Michael Douglas, was diagnosed with stage four tongue cancer in 2010.

It was particularly stressful for the pair because the actor was misdiagnosed “not once, not twice, but three times.” Catherine, who suffers from bipolar disorder, opened up about the struggle at a recent medical conference in New York.

“I was a mess. I’ll be quite frank, I was a mess,” the 44-year-old said of Michael’s diagnosis.

catherine zeta-jones

“When I’m married to a man who has such a conviction for life…he fights to make the wrongs right. For the first time he was fighting for his life,” she told the room full of 3,000 doctors. “I’m very happy to be here this morning with my husband. I mean that literally. I’m very happy to be here with my husband.”

The Wall Street star also spoke during the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies’ conference, telling the audience, “In every sense of the word, I’m very fortunate to be here today.”

Although Michael was diagnosed with tongue cancer, he initially told the public he had throat cancer on the advice of his doctor. At the time, surgery could have meant losing parts of his tongue and jaw, a threat to the Oscar winner’s career.

Related: Michael Douglas Calls Fatherhood a “Gorgeous and Wonderful Feeling”

Cancer-free since January 2011, the 69-year-old credited the medical team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, saying, “We can only imagine what the next century will bring. Thank you for saving my life.”