Breast Cancer Survivor
Giuliana's New Focus: Helping Others Feel Fabulous
Though it was difficult at first to share her very personal breast cancer experience with the public, multi-talented television personality and cancer survivor Giuliana Rancic knew she had an important story to tell. She created FAB-U-WISH and partnered with The Pink Agenda, a national nonprofit organization. Together, they help women going through breast cancer treatment feel like themselves again.
Like many women, Giuliana didn’t plan to have her first mammogram until she was 40. But at 36, she and her husband, Bill, were pursuing in vitro fertilization (IVF), and part of her IVF doctor’s protocol before receiving an egg transfer included a mammogram. Giuliana had no family history of breast cancer and no reason to be concerned about the early mammogram. Nevertheless, the test results showed a tumor. She was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.
The news shocked her, but Giuliana realized how lucky she was to have discovered the disease at this point in her life.
“Thank goodness he does this,” Giuliana said, referring to her IVF doctor’s required testing. “I’m sure the last thing a doctor wants is to help someone get pregnant who may have not known they have breast cancer.”
It was an emotional time for Giuliana and Bill, but she credits him with helping her stay grounded. He kept a level head as they researched treatment options, and she discovered that learning more about what she was facing was empowering.
“When you get diagnosed with something like breast cancer, it is very easy to take an emotional approach to every decision. I think it’s important for all women to have someone in their life who can try to help take the emotion out of the process since many of us, when we are diagnosed with something like cancer, tend to catastrophize everything in our mind. That can lead to choices that are not always the best ones for us.”
Giuliana’s treatment began with a lumpectomy, after which her doctor advised that she consider a mastectomy. She and Bill made a list of pros and cons, keeping in mind their goal of starting a family. They took into consideration how some of the treatment types may affect that capability.
“I am so thankful,” she went on, “that I had a husband who was able to take a rational approach. It really helped us get to better decisions regarding treatment.”
Giuliana chose to have a double mastectomy and was given the choice to either do reconstruction at the same time or undergo the mastectomy with reconstruction after, which meant expanders and a follow-up surgery months later.
“I wanted to minimize the number of surgeries so I opted for immediate reconstruction. Luckily, I was a good candidate for this. I think it's a very personal decision since everyone is so different.”
The toughest side effect of the surgery for Giuliana was actual pain at the incision site.
“Painkillers cause a lot of nausea for me, so I wasn't able to take the recommended amount. My chest and surrounding areas hurt pretty badly, but I know many women who are able to take painkillers who say that they didn't have anywhere close to the discomfort I had. Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky, but in the end, it was worth it. I just had to take it one day at a time, and every day the pain got more manageable."
The after effects of the reconstruction also proved a bit challenging.
“I would be lying if I said it was easy to get used to the scars and everything else that comes from reconstruction. It took a long time to adjust,” she admitted, “but now, I look at my scars as a symbol of strength, perseverance and a reminder that I'm one tough woman! If I can kick cancer’s butt, I can do anything!”
From diagnosis through recovery, Bill offered endless emotional and physical support.
“I was very blessed to have such a supportive caregiver by my side. Bill likes to joke that he became my own private nurse for a while, helping me do everything from bathing and getting dressed to eating and, finally, walking and getting a little exercise again. I truly can’t imagine what I would have done without him.”
Even though Giuliana has opened her personal life to the public in many ways, deciding to share this very personal experience was difficult initially.
“I realized I had an important story to tell and that my journey could help so many other people. I knew I had to tell the world ‘Hey, if this can happen to me, a healthy 36-year-old woman with no family history of breast cancer, then it can happen to anyone!’”
Promoting the importance of early detection wasn’t all she felt compelled to do. About two weeks after her mastectomy, Giuliana went back to work. She remembers looking in the mirror, after getting her hair and makeup done and putting on a pretty outfit, and seeing a face she hadn't seen in months.
“For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt like myself again,” she said. “I felt like the girl I was before the breast cancer, and it made me smile.”
That moment is what gave Giuliana the idea to create FAB-U-WISH, an initiative that grants wishes to women who are going through treatment.
“I wanted women going through breast cancer treatment to forget about the cancer for a while and just be themselves again.”
To be able to help even more people, she teamed up with The Pink Agenda, an organization that is committed to raising money for breast cancer research and care, along with raising awareness of the disease among young professionals. Together, they have granted hundreds of wishes for many wonderful and deserving women.
“They tell us it felt so good to just let loose and forget about their worries for a day. Nothing makes me happier than seeing these incredible women smile and laugh again. The gift is for them, but in the end, creating this program has been the greatest gift I have ever received.”
Giuliana and Bill celebrated the birth of their son via gestational carrier nearly a year after her diagnosis. Four years later, she celebrated the major milestone of being five years cancer-free.
The feedback she receives daily confirms she made the right decision to share her story.
“I can't tell you how many women have come up to me and said that my story inspired them to check their breasts on a regular basis or get their first mammogram. I have also had women tell me they found their breast cancer early because of my story. The idea that my story can change a life or even save a life is pretty incredible, which makes me even happier that I decided to go public after all.”
For more information about FAB-U-WISH, please visit www.thepinkagenda.org/fab-u-wish