by susanna negovan
Photography by robert ascroft | January 16, 2012 | People
Evening gown, Maria Lucia Hohan ($920). Long chain diamond tassel necklace, David Yurman ($2,275). 40 E. Oak St., 312-787-7779. Elsa Peretti Continuous Diamond necklace, Tiffany & Co. ($65,500). 730 N. Michigan Ave., 312-944-7500. Darling sandals, Jimmy Choo (price on request). 63 E. Oak St., 312-255-1170
Cancer has become the answer to a lot of personal questions for Giuliana Rancic. Why were she and husband Bill having such a hard time conceiving, she would often wonder, despite the fact that repeated fertility tests turned up nothing wrong? Or even before she began her struggle with infertility three years ago, Rancic would have nagging doubts about her meteoric rise in a business where she says she didn’t always feel worthy.
Now, she says, a clear picture has emerged. It began last fall, when all eyes were on Rancic as she publicly underwent treatment for estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer—first a double lumpectomy, and then, when cancer remained in her right breast, a double mastectomy in December. Her diagnosis was the result of a mammogram ordered by a doctor as part of an IVF protocol that revealed early-stage breast cancer. At 36, she was four years away from her first mammogram, and if she had gotten pregnant through one of her previous fertility treatments, her doctors have told her that the prolonged hormone surge would have accelerated the growth of her cancer.
“Do you realize that if we had gotten pregnant, I would have been done?” she says. “That would have catapulted this cancer into another level. By the time I was 40 or 41, I’m scared to think about what they would have told me. I now know the reason why I wasn’t ever supposed to get pregnant. People come up and they have sadness in their eyes, and I think, at a time when everyone’s looking at me with pity, I look at myself as lucky. I think I just dodged the biggest bullet of my life.”
As the cancer was cleared away, what took its place was a pressing belief that talking about it was an important part of her life’s purpose. “I remember when I first came to Hollywood I would sit in these casting calls. I wasn’t the prettiest, I had a funny name, I certainly wasn’t the smartest—but at the same time, I always thought when I started getting the jobs, How did I get that job, and these girls didn’t?” But now, she says, she understands that the platform she has built over the last 10 years at E!—and the relationships with millions of young women who hang on her every word about Kim Kardashian or Britney Spears—can serve a greater good. “Maybe in some way I’m a little bit of a messenger,” she says. “Maybe God knew that I have a big mouth, that I’m a loud Italian chick, that I wouldn’t hide anything. It now starts to make some sense to me why I think I got the cool job, because I think He knew I would do some cool stuff with it.”
While Rancic has been incredibly open about nearly every stage of her diagnosis, she has also guarded some parts of her story very closely. Like when she first learned of the results of a biopsy on her left breast in early September, but doctors wanted to postpone a lumpectomy until they checked her right breast via MRI as well. “Every single second of the day I was thinking, I have cancer. It totally consumed me, and no one knew.”
A biopsy on her right breast was inconclusive, so her doctors decided to perform a smaller lumpectomy on that breast. The day before her treatment, on Monday, October 17, she went on the Today show to talk about it. On the one hand, she knew going public would be helpful to some women, but she also knew it would become a permanent label attached to her name. She decided to go forward with the announcement, had the procedure on Tuesday, and by Friday received the devastating news that the margins on her right breast were not clear.
Giuliana's Watershed Decision
Her physician, Dr. Armando Giuliano of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, presented her with options. A double mastectomy would be the quickest and most decisive treatment—giving her only a one percent chance of recurrence—but also the most extreme. “He said, ‘Obviously your breasts will never be the same, and you’re also going to lose all sensitivity and feeling,’” says Rancic. “He thought it was a more major loss than I did. I just thought, If that’s the worst, that’s a trade I’m willing to make.” By the end of that weekend, after discussing it with Bill and a small circle of friends that included Dr. Paul Song (Lisa Ling’s husband, who is a radiation oncologist), she was nearly certain she wanted to do it. The deciding factor was a Halloween weekend visit to LA from Chicagoan Lindsay Avner, founder of breast cancer nonprofit Bright Pink and someone who had herself undergone a double mastectomy. “I had seen all these images on the Internet—a lot of them are really scary and terrifying. Lindsay showed me her breasts and that really brought it home. I was like, Okay, I’m doing it, because she looks amazing.”
|Vest, Sportmax ($635). Max Mara, 900 North Michigan Shops, 312-475-9500. Rings, Rancic’s own|
She spent the next six weeks “training for surgery” (strength training and carbo-loading, “like for a marathon” she says) and gearing up for her second announcement on the Today show on December 5. “You know how Hollywood works, if I’m going to tell one person, you might as well tell the whole world,” she says. At that point, “probably less than 10 people in my life knew what was happening. Those periods of secrecy were worse than coming out and being public. I was so scared.”
After her heartfelt announcement came an overwhelming flood of support from fans across the globe. “Messages from Indonesia, South Africa, Australia, Toronto… I felt love and prayers coming from all over the world. I think because breast cancer touches so many people, when someone hears you have it, they just shower you with love. The one word I always saw in all the messages was strong. You’re so strong, stay strong, be strong—when you hear something enough, you start believing it. I was like, I’m strong, I’m strong, I’m strong. That’s helped me get through a lot of this.”
When she awoke from the four-hour surgery, Bill took on the role of primary nurse, lovingly changing her gauzes, giving her sponge baths, putting her hair in ponytails. “Bill has been so incredibly nurturing,” she says. “I couldn’t have imagined him stepping up to the plate as much as he has.”
The day after surgery, when medical staff forced her to stand up, she felt like knives were stabbing her under her breasts; there were four drains painfully surrounded by her stitched skin, which weren’t removed until six days later. At that point, nearly a week after surgery and with Bill’s urging, she was ready to look at her breasts in the mirror for the first time. “I had done a lot of research, so I didn’t expect to be disfigured, but I was pleasantly surprised,” she says. “And it will only get better.”
Almost immediately, in the days following her surgery, she began to hear from people who said her openness had already had an impact. Lindsay Avner called to say that she knew of two young women—one of whom had been going through IVF—who had scheduled mammograms after hearing about Rancic on the news. Sadly, they both had Stage 1 cancer, but have begun life-saving treatment. A few days after her surgery, she got a whispered voice mail from Dancing with the Stars host Brooke Burke, saying, “I’m at my doctor’s office and I just want you to know I am finally getting my first mammogram and that is all thanks to you,” says Rancic. “It was that times a million—so many calls and e-mails from people inspired to take action. It’s phenomenal.”
Back to Business
She barely has time to think about all the women whose lives could be saved by her story; Rancic is already back to work with a full slate of shows and appearances as the coanchor of E! News, Fashion Police, and Live from the Red Carpet for the upcoming Golden Globe, Grammy, and Academy Awards. She is also about to open her new restaurant in Chicago. While preparing for the Globes, she e-mailed her stylist, asking to avoid any cleavage-baring dresses, “at least for the first two awards shows.” Her breasts look good, she says, “but I don’t want everyone’s attention to be there.”
And she has an idea: “I want to do something like a Make-a-Wish for breast cancer patients.” She’s been thinking about tapping into her connections “so these women can enjoy the things I get to enjoy. Everything from ‘I’ve never owned a pair of Louboutins’ to ‘I’ve never met Ryan Gosling.’ Bill actually came up with the cutest name: Fab-uwish.” She hopes to launch it this year.
As for her baby plans? “Right now we’re just on lockdown,” says Rancic. “We’re not doing IVF for at least a couple of months just to give my body a chance to recover. This year, yes, our journey to have a baby will continue.” It’s a journey that will continue to be chronicled on the Style Network reality show Giuliana & Bill, which will enter its fifth season on April 2.
And a triumphant recovery that will continue to unfold before our eyes.
Styling by Brian Primeaux at ArtMix Beauty
Hair by Brian Magallones for Exclusive Artists/Redken
Makeup by Catalina Su