Dee Dee Ricks is shameless, in a very good way. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, this single mother, a success on Wall Street with lots of money to burn, as she puts it, realized that her boys, then 5 and 3, would not remember her if the disease progressed to a worst case scenario. And so she filmed every moment of her cancer battle: doctor visits, chemo, double mastectomy, hair loss, wig creation, reconstructive surgery and without a blink, her breasts before and after. Her film, The Education of Dee Dee Ricks, directed by Perri Peltz, is to air on October 27 on HBO. Throughout, she appears remarkably upbeat and fearless, even while expressing her darkest moments.
As her fight with cancer progressed she became aware of how different the outcome can be for women less privileged, who don't have the backup help with child care or the resources for expert care. Even if women have health insurance, the jostling for coverage can be daunting, fatal, as time can be an enemy. Ricks contrasts her own story with that of Cynthia Dodson, an African American who was in a late stage when diagnosed and simply was not as lucky as she.
Transformed by her experience, Ricks is now dedicated to raising awareness and saving lives. She says in the film that making a million dollar deal just doesn't do it for her anymore. A committed activist, she will travel in the next few weeks to bring the film to women who cannot see it on HBO, she said at a special screening on Tuesday at The Paley Center. It's that important.
One challenge took place at home, in her multi-million dollar apartment which, by the way, she can no longer afford after treatment. She speaks to her young sons, revealing every step in a brave, matter-of-fact tone, allowing them to support her. At one moment, as her son is relaxing with a blanket, she removes her do-rag to reveal her hairless head. What do you think, she says, pretty cool, right? The child somewhat speechless at first takes the blanket over his head and whispers, bald. Ricks told me she had not seen that part of the film until a preview of the finished work. "At first I thought, oh my God, what have I done to my children? But then I realized, when they talk about their mom, they say, 'WE licked cancer."
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.