My colleagues Katie Couric, Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson (as a TV news producer I worked with all three) have joined forces in a rare show of solidarity to raise money to fight cancer hosting a one hour call in show, Standup2cancer.
Bravo to these network anchors for having the courage to channel their competitive instincts to meet this urgent need. Their collective credibility signals their commitment to fund research to find a cure, as well as the high priority they place on news coverage of this destructive disease. According to the Standup2cancer website, "cancer will affect one out of every two men and one out of every three women." That is jaw dropping, in fact, it means many of you reading this blog are, right now, engaged in the battle with cancer (whether as patients, survivors or friends and family of both) and, sadly, many more of you will enter that battle field in years to come.
Each of these three network news anchors heard the brutal word cancer when a family member received the diagnosis -- a husband, father, sister, mother and wife respectively. Now they are working with Standup2cancer to make finding a cure a reality, uniting you with numerous celebrities waiting to take your call. The focus is on how you can help -- donations, volunteering your time or expertise, exchanging cutting edge information.
When you hear the words "you have cancer" from a doctor standing in front of you, your brain and heart go numb. I know. I was with my Mother when they told her she had inoperable, stage four, terminal lung cancer. My sister and I looked at her, and then each other in disbelief, both of us speechless.
My Mother had the courage to speak first, saying "I find this hard to believe" and I knew exactly where she was coming from. In her mid-eighties, she never smoked a day in her life (never even tried a cigarette) nor was she exposed to second hand smoke. As a daughter I was devastated, and as a journalist, my reaction was, "what happened to stage one, two and three, why wasn't this found sooner when surgery might have been an option, who dropped the ball?" All the questions you are trained to ask in news and then in turn, demand answers-immediate answers to fit into well crafted sound bites. But cancer doesn't work that way. It invades and pervades on its own time frame, taking you down a road that eludes well crafted sound bites.
It was my Mother's idea I pursue a career in television news. "See that woman reporter," she said, pointing to Nancy Dickerson reporting from the White House while we were watching NBC News, "You can do this, this is a great profession for you, you need to go to Washington, DC and start this journey." This at a time when there were very few women in TV news, either in front of or behind the camera. No matter, it was her vision; she was a true news junkie and realized news moves the world, wanting me have a part in telling the story. She supported this vision, nurtured it and gave me the courage to believe I had what it takes. And as it turns out, like most Moms, she was right. I did go to Washington DC, building a career producing for NBC Nightly News (including covering the White House) ABC News Nightline and later CNN in Los Angeles. Because of her insight and love, I was able to thrive in a profession that was tremendously rewarding. She was my champion and my rock, watching everything I ever worked on, (including all the hour documentaries on Pension Funds she actually found fascinating), celebrating my success and holding my hand when I sobbed, describing a decision made by yet another inept executive. "It is not about your job", she would say. "It is about your talent and ability to move forward, one foot in the front of the other." And when I was offered a position as a studio executive and asked her advice, she said to me, "you're going to learn so much in executive management, your name is all over this opportunity, go for it, it's a new direction on the journey." And again she was right, another terrific, amazing professional experience.
I have spent the last 18 months helping to take care of her, accompanying her to doctor's appointments, hospitals, getting x rays, coping with medications and reactions, immersing myself in the world of cancer. She was not a candidate for traditional radiation and chemo, rather, was taking a pill form of chemo in hopes of shrinking the tumor, giving her some quality to the time she had left. And while the medication did give her some added time, the side effects included losing her hair, a miserable skin rash on her stunning, flawless complexion, nausea and weakness. My sister Nora (who suffers from lupus) packed her up, generously driving her to my home on numerous occasions so she could stay with me from time to time between visits to the oncologist. I was cooking for her, taking long walks at the beach in Santa Monica joined by my nephews and their Dad, visiting family and friends. It was during this time we shared together, I realized my Mother was the most courageous person I had ever known. My whole life, she was a constant, determined source of strength, no matter what obstacle or challenge came her way. Her unwavering faith inspired her to rise above challenges, including her terminal cancer. She faced it and made up her mind to beat it. "They're going to find a cure, she would say, "I just know it."
My Mother set a goal to live to age 85 and to no one's surprise she made it. We celebrated her birthday with a terrific dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Pacific, returning to my house for cake and champagne. Six weeks later she was in hospice, too weak to hold a book or newspaper. My sister was reading to her from the Bible and I was reading articles from New Yorker about Hillary Clinton. She was smiling back at both of us, understanding every word. My brother, sister and I were holding her hand when she died, assuring her we would take care of each other, the way she took care of us.
I am so grateful to God for the time I had with her those last months and the opportunity to honor her journey, as she is the one who chartered mine. I miss her terribly, but know she is in a much better place with God, cancer free. Her fight has ended, and ours just beginning. So call in and thank Katie, Brian and Charlie for their courage, recognizing the collective need to Standup2cancer, raising money for a cure. My Mom would have liked that.
Janet Janjigian is a media consultant, studio executive and Emmy award winning TV news producer.