My mind kept spinning about why I kept my RA hidden for twenty years. I knew the obvious reason and wrote about it in my memoir Take Me Home From The Oscars. Basically I would have lost my career in television. As a fashion and style reporter who promoted looking and feeling your best, the roller coaster ride of RA was not compatible. And the most obvious reason? There were many talents standing in line for my wonderful jobs and if there was any hint about a chronic disease, let alone a disease that was identified with being old (because the public was so unaware that RA is an autoimmune disease, not an old person’s disease), I would have lost my work on Live With Regis, The Today Show, Entertainment Tonight, Oprah and even Fox Network News. Gone. There was not a doubt in my mind.
And so I lived with an identity crisis. Who was I? The patient at UCLA going through infusions of steroids, on and off various combinations of medicines waiting for something new to come through research or the TV style reporter who talked about the latest trends in clothes, gifts and appearance on national television talk shows? Of course I wanted to continue to be the television personality, but the reality was, I was both. And that juxtaposition of what I called being a lab rat at UCLA vs. a television personality was the basis for writing my memoir. I wanted to help others understand the disease and the importance of never giving up and I also wanted to try to get out of my identity crisis mode.
And Kathie Lee, without knowing it was very instrumental in my survival. I worked with her for the 15 years she was at Live with Regis & Kathie Lee from 1985 to 2000 and I got to know her well. I saw the joy of her marriage, her blissful pregnancies and the growth of her little ones. I watched how philanthropic she was in helping others with her Cody’s House and Cassidy’s Place. Always a smile on her face. And then I watched her go through dealing with personal issues on national television, in front of a hungry press looking for stories. While I was living with the trials of RA, she was living with personal trials and the criticism that she was just “too perky.” I could see tears in her eyes some mornings before we went on air. I could feel tears in my eyes some mornings when my pain pills weren’t working and the countdown to my TV segment was in progress. And yet her smile made me smile. Her attitude influenced my attitude. She held her head up and I held mine up too. And I chose to become better and stronger watching her become better and stronger.
I never realized how her actions influenced my actions until it was all over. She left Live with Regis and did many things: some singing, some Broadway, some music and book writing, and then back on daytime TV with The Today Show. Our paths crossed less and less but now I see her on Facebook all the time, posting wonderful things like this quote and I realize that she turned trials into treasures and she taught me to as well.
When I read the stories of the JA kids I understand how they too are going through an identity crisis. Who are they? A six year old who wants to take ballet and can’t because of her joints? A twelve year old who was a great soccer player until JA robbed him of his ability? A kid who wants to walk through a theme park instead of riding in a stroller or wheelchair? A teenager who wants to fit in with her fashionable peers but she can’t walk in today’s stylish shoes?
Who are we? Who are the kids? Do RA and JA have to come before our name in every instance? And just how does one change trials into treasures?
My solutions? Know that we are better and stronger kids, teenagers and adults and even yes, television personalities. We are determined to see our trials as treasures because we know others need our support and we are not alone. Social Media has made it easy to reach out for advice, insight and friendship. We have the choice to surround ourselves with people who lift us up, not tear us down. We understand we also have the choice of not allowing a disease to define our identity. I know it’s hard some days, but we keep our chins up and move forward.
We want and need to prove that Kathie Lee is right about seeing our trials as treasures.
As if it was meant to be, this morning I was watching CBS’s Sunday Morning and during the Steve Hartman segment about an inspirational man dealing with MS, I heard this quote,
“Remember there is only one thing better than a great day-making someone else’s.”
And I leave you with my thought of the day,
“Spend more time during your day thinking of others instead of yourself.”