Last summer, I had the opportunity to interview E! News co-host Giuliana Rancic and her husband Bill about Giuliana’s battle with breast cancer. Of all the people I’ve interviewed in my years as a journalist, Giuliana was one of my favorites. She was so down to earth and just real. It was one of those rare interviews I left thinking that the story was going to be easy to write because of how beautifully she and Bill answered all of my questions.
The article printed in the October 2012 issues of Gold Coast and Boca Life magazines, and I am excited to say that my profile on the couple just won a 2013 Sunshine State Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. I placed third in the state of Florida for the category “Profile Reporting.” I am proud to share the article below:
“Forgetting Breast Cancer” by Jennifer Tormo
E! News co-host Giuliana Rancic, who comes to Boca Raton this month to speak at the Go Pink Luncheon, shares how she seized an “I-forgot-I-have-cancer” mentality.
She only had 45 minutes to process the news.
Giuliana Rancic expected to be in and out of the 10 a.m. doctor’s appointment. When her doctor’s mouth opened, she never expected to hear the words he said.
“I’m sorry. You have breast cancer.”
She was blindsided. She had no family history; she was only 36 – where had this come from? It was like she’d been kicked in the stomach. But there was no time to grieve. She had two choices: She could go to work, or she could go home and cry.
She chose work.
“No one knew. Not a soul knew,” she says. She had one focus: keeping it together. But there was an added challenge. She wasn’t just keeping it together for her co-workers. She was keeping it together for the camera, keeping it together for the 97 million viewers E! reaches nationally, keeping it together as she dished the latest gossip on celebrity fashion, breakups and makeups.
“We still have that footage of when I came and anchored with Ryan [Seacrest] that day,” she says. “People were like, God, you were spunkier than usual.”
But that’s Rancic’s way – when she’s sad, she goes out of her way to appear happy. She coped privately. Between commercial breaks, she’d excuse herself to the rest room. “I would say, ‘oh, my shoes hurt. I need to go get a different pair of shoes.’ I would go to the bathroom and cry. I would have plenty of Kleenex on hand so my makeup wouldn’t get messed up.”
Speaking to her today, about a year after that fateful diagnosis, it seems easy for Rancic to talk about crying. It’s a testament to her strength that she is so unafraid to make herself vulnerable. The 5-foot-8 Italian-American gushes emotion, making grand hand gestures when she speaks, her long bronze-colored hair staying perfectly in place as the rest of her moves to the tune of her words. Even her Twitter page is punctuated with exclamation points, emoticons and words written in caps for emphasis; you can almost hear her voice as you read her posts. (A tweet to her husband, Bill, reads, “Love u babe:).” “Good luck!!!!! Sending u love:),” reads another, this one to a friend in New York undergoing IVF treatments.)
And maybe it’s part of being a journalist – maybe being an interviewer who knows to get all the details taught her how to be interviewed too – but when Rancic tells a story, she tells the whole story. She never lets anyone forget that the story of how she discovered her breast cancer really starts with another story: a nearly three-year-long battle to have a baby.
The mammogram had been simple protocol. When she went for her third round of in vitro fertilization in August 2011, her new doctor insisted she get a mammogram. Rancic protested. She was only 36 – why would she need a mammogram? Her doctor told her he didn’t care if she was 26 or 46, because the hormones during pregnancy would accelerate breast cancer if it were present. Reluctantly, she complied.
After she had time to process her diagnosis, everything came together. “It’s amazing looking back, how life works. There really is a master plan,” she says. The doctors never could explain to her why she couldn’t get pregnant. But if she had gotten pregnant, the cancer likely would’ve been much further along, instead of in its earliest stages. And though she would now be forced to put it on hold, Rancic felt that the difficult quest to have a baby had, ironically, saved her life.
Another thing began to make sense to Rancic. Though she had worked at E! for more than 10 years, some days she still had the sense of, “Why me?” As a young immigrant from Naples, Italy, she taught herself English by watching the news. When she got a job at E! she was barely 26, and the humble Rancic never thought she was the prettiest, the smartest or the most talented person who auditioned. More than a decade later, what previously had felt like an incredible blessing made sense: Being on the public stage was her chance to help people, to spread the message to women about early detection. Maybe people would believe if it could happen to her, it could happen to them, too.
Rancic and Bill decided to take the news public. Accustomed to asking celebrities about their personal lives for a living, she allowed the tables to turn. She went on the “TODAY Show” and made an announcement.
“I’ll never forget the day she went on the ‘TODAY Show’ because I was sitting off to the side watching and thought, wow, she has no idea what she’s doing right now,” Bill says, already imagining looking back on the moment five or 10 years down the road. “I was so proud of her.”
Days after the appearance, she had a double lumpectomy to remove the lumps, followed by radiation, and less than two months later in December, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. None of it was kept secret. But that’s not really a surprise. Even today, Rancic doesn’t sugarcoat or hide anything; she answers every question honestly. She never stumbles, never uses placeholder words like “um,” never even has to think when answering a question – the answer just comes.
The Rancics have always been open about their lives, right down to their extremely personal struggle with fertility, sharing every detail in their reality show “Giuliana & Bill.”
“When we started the ‘Giuliana & Bill’ show, we made a promise that we would use this show for good and not evil. That’s what we’ve done,” explains Bill, the 41-year-old entrepreneur, Chicago real estate developer, TV producer and first season winner of “The Apprentice.” While his wife worked through the emotions of a cancer diagnosis, he dealt with the logistics in a pen-to-paper, methodical way.
“He came up with lists and pros and cons of things, assembled a team of doctors, helped me get the help I really needed, which I just wasn’t really capable of doing,” Rancic says. “It was very natural for me to just kind of want to curl up in bed and hide under the covers and not deal with it and just cry.”
But if hiding under the covers was what she wanted to do, what she actually did was the exact opposite. Two weeks after her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she was back at work. “I found that filling my days with things I used to do before the diagnosis, I felt like the girl I was before I was diagnosed,” she explains. “Oops, I forgot I have cancer.”
Her motto is get busy living or get busy dying, and she’s busy living. A year after her diagnosis, she’s healthy and has a new restaurant opening in Chicago (it’s her second, both co-owned with Bill), is co-hosting with Bill a new NBC show later this year called “Ready for Love,” and continuing work on her FabFitFun health website. The Rancics, currently in Chicago, are also excited to relocate to a new home in Los Angeles.
And the Rancic family added another line on its family tree – a baby boy, Edward Duke, born via gestational surrogate in late August. The child gives a new definition to “miracle baby” – Rancic will forever look at the son she’s waited for as the child who saved her life.
Photography courtesy of the Rancics.