Catherine Zeta-Jones has spoken of how she struggled to cope in the aftermath of Michael Douglas’s cancer diagnosis.

Catherine Zeta Jones Michael Douglas
Catherine Zeta-Jones told a conference about how Michael Douglas' cancer impacted her

The 44 year old addressed a medical conference in New York on Sunday, admitting that she had found it difficult to cope when her husband was diagnosed with stage four tongue cancer in 2010 having been misdiagnosed three times previously.

“I was a mess. I'll be quite frank, I was a mess” she told the audience. “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.”

Douglas had been repeatedly misdiagnosed by American doctors, only learning the truth about his condition from a specialist in Montreal.

The couple had split up temporarily last year but are now reconciled, and both addressed the International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies at the opening panel of the conference, the New York Daily News reported.

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Upon the initial diagnosis, when Douglas was promoting Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, he initially announced that he was suffering from throat cancer on the advice of his doctor. The risks of tongue cancer surgery involve the potential loss of parts of the jaw and tongue.

The couple have had two children together, son Dylan (13) and daughter Carys (11). Douglas, who was given the all-clear in January 2011 after a course of treatment including chemotherapy, told the conference “we can only imagine what the next century will bring. Thank you for saving my life”.