Ray Romano: My Wife Beat Breast Cancer

02/08/2012 at 01:00 PM EST

Ray Romano on Wife's Breast Cancer Battle
Anna and Ray Romano
George Holz
Ray Romano's hit sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, was famously based on his experiences at home, but he and his wife of 24 years Anna, have remained mum on one very personal subject – until now.

The actor and his wife are opening up to PEOPLE for the first time about Anna's battle with stage one breast cancer.

"The reason we're going public is to share our experience, yeah, but to have an effect," says Ray, 54. "Our goal is to help people."

After a doctor discovered a lump in her right breast, Anna, 48, had a mammogram and a biopsy. In February 2010, she was devastated to hear that she had "invasive breast cancer."





While Anna acknowledges that losing her hair during her four rounds of chemotherapy was tough ("I'm already shy and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around bald," she says), as a mother to four kids: Ally, 21, twins Greg and Matt, 19, and Joe, 14, she also found it difficult to prioritize herself.

"I take on everybody's stress, but this had to be all about me," she says. "I'm not like that!"

Thankfully, she has made a full recovery – and Anna and Ray are focusing on helping others.

"We dodged a bullet," says Ray. "Now we want to give back."

For more about how the Romanos dealt with Anna's diagnosis – and how Ray helped keep her spirits up – pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

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