Last month, when I hit the Bright Pink Fab Fest, hosted by E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic, I was shocked when she reminded me that her breast-cancer diagnosis occurred only nine months ago. It seems like eons because she’s packed in a lot activism in that time. Anyone who's watched her and husband Bill's reality-TV show, Giuliana and Bill, also know that she's thoroughly chronicled the emotional process of her failing to get pregnant.
I'm sure I speak for many others when I say she's touched me, as well as helped me learn a lot about resilience through her struggles. I still feel a bit ambivalent about the amount in which reality-TV stars air their laundry, dirty or otherwise. Because I have yet to see Kim Kardashian awaken with even bed head sans makeup, let alone doing something that didn't entail her being self-absorbed, I take so-called reality-TV with a grain of salt.
I watch celebrities only enough to cover them in my work.
But in Giuliana Rancic’s case, many of the things she’s endured (i.e., her struggle to become pregnant and her breast-cancer diagnosis) have served in a way as public service announcements, whereas other celebrities like Charles Barkley lament how they're not obliged to be role models. They'd be stupid not to know that they can't help but be idols to millions of folks because they've been given a rare platform of captive audience that I wish more of them would use more responsibly.
Since Giuliana's diagnosis, I've seen a depth grow in her that, frankly, I thought she was lacking beforehand. Not that she needs to have depth in her line of work, interviewing celebrities on the red carpet. My assessment of her wasn't negative. It just matched what I thought of many other celebrities: that I didn't have to think deeply to conclude that I have no profound (read: substantive) opinion of them.
Giuliana's maturity is particularly apparent in an episode of Giuliana and Bill, where she is preparing for the Golden Globe Awards in a gown that reveals her mastectomy scars. Her stylist asks permission to cover them with makeup, but Giuliana declines, stating proudly (if not poignantly) that they are "battle scars" denoting her cancer survival.
Now, when I go to cover her public appearances, the assignment can’t help but assume a personal tone, simply because I’ve known so many people, some very close to me, who’ve contracted various types of cancer:
A close family friend underwent a mastectomy about seven years ago and has fortunately remained healthy. Another’s cigarettes I used to break off the butts and throw away. After fussing at me, she’d promptly retrieved the broken butts from the garbage can to see if any were salvageable.
Ten years ago I lost my aunt to lung cancer (which I mentioned to Giuliana). However, one of my most vivid recollections was my junior year of undergraduate school. My coworker Bonnie, who was several decades older than I, lost her battle after continuing to smoke despite being diagnosed with cancer (not sure which type) years before. To encourage her to get well, I’d written her a note card that she later recounted to me over the phone just days before she died in the hospital.
“To my little smokestack, Bonnie,” the note read. “I wish you would stop smoking.”
“I wished I’d listened to you,” she lamented.
Certainly it never entered my mind to remind her, I told you so. Even now, I still think about Bonnie, rocking those five-inch stilettos to work. She was styling something like Louboutins even before they were invented. That's how I want to remember her. Only in her early 50s, she left us much too soon.
Although my aunt was nearly twice Giuliana’s age, losing a loved one, particularly to an oftentimes ravaging disease, is never easy. And to see them die a slow death is even more agonizing.
I thank God for bestowing longevity to our family friend and, most of all, to my maternal grandmother, who turns 90 years in August this year. I’m too young to remember her battle (I think it was ovarian, but she no longer recalls which type). But she fought the disease at a time when there was such intense shame attached to it, that when people spoke about it—if at all—they whispered.
My aunt smoked. However, the wife of Superman star Christopher Reeve didn’t. Dana Reeve succumbed to lung cancer at age 44 without ever touching a cigarette. Giuliana recounted how before her diagnosis she'd lead and continues to live a similarly healthy lifestyle. That’s what makes this disease even scarier: that you can do nothing purposefully unhealthy and get it. On the other hand, you can also smoke for years, as my grandfather did, and never get it. He died of orneriness (that is, from not doing anything the doctor told him) earlier this year at age 92.
While at Fab Fest event, I kept thinking that although pink is considered traditionally a “girl’s color,” I hoped that the lack of male attendance at the event—there were only a handful—doesn’t obscure the fact that as actor Richard Roundtree proved men can get breast cancer, too.
Giuliana isn't out of the woods yet with her diagnosis. From watching the show, I learned she shouldn't become pregnant for at least three to five years because the surge in estrogen may exacerbate the disease.
I sat down briefly to talk to her and she talked about being dumbfounded about getting the disease since she lived a clean lifestyle. What I didn't know was that sly devil Giuliana was keeping a secret.
Only days later, she and Bill would appear on the Today show again to announce that they were going to be parents through gestational carrier. Obviously, she broke the story with them (and not with me). That’s so, shall I say, ironic because at the event I saw that Bill was holding a friend’s child, who looked to be about three or four. Intermittently, he'd toss her in the air. He seemed very natural and content. And at that moment I thought to myself that I hoped he and Giuliana would soon laugh and play with their own child. Looks like they'll have their wish after all.
Tags: Bill Rancic, Breast Cancer, Bright Pink, Cancer, Courage, E!, E! New, Fab Fest, Gestational, Giuliana Rancic, IVF, Lindsay Avner, Mother's Day, Pregnant. Happy Mother's Day, Surrogate, The Apprentice