By Bobbie Whiteman
I'm one of the privileged few who were at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, home of the Academy Awards ceremony, on Friday evening to watch dozens of celebs vying for a prize more precious than an Oscar -- a cure for cancer.
I felt doubly privileged to be there because, on April 10, 2007, my persistent back pain was finally traced to five tumors that had made themselves at home along my spine plus one in my brain, though, thankfully, not in a part that I actually use.
No wonder, then, that I found the hourlong "Stand Up to Cancer" fundraiser, broadcast commercial free by ABC, NBC and CBS, painful, joyful, educational, emotional and inspirational. And I felt honored that so many celebrities, medical specialists, their patients and families would give their time to help others to fight, and more importantly, survive cancer.
The harrowing stories of so many who had lost their struggle, which had me fighting back the tears, were balanced by the heartwarming and inspirational stories of survivors, often told by themselves.
I defy anyone not to have been moved by a beautiful little girl who, after enduring radiation and chemotherapy, managed to smile and say she just concentrated on "just making it through another day." It was a pleasure to see her joy at meeting her screen idol, Abigail Breslin (pictured above).
The numbers presented made terrifying reading. An American is diagnosed with cancer every 20 seconds, one dies every 60 seconds.But there are 12 million survivors out there -- from Lance Armstrong (pictured left), speaking from U.S. Cellular Field (home to the Chicago White Sox), to Patrick Swayze, still battling pancreatic cancer, who kicked off the show in the auditorium.
I was heartened by the reports from scientists very hopeful of finding a cure, an actual cure, in the next three to five years -- if they have the money to speed up the process.
And that's where the stars really shine in persuading us to send our money in to this worthy cause. This show recruited a panoply of them, far too many to mention but all to the credit of the organizers of the event, telecast exec producer Laura Ziskin and the Entertainment Industry Foundation, among others.
The lineup included a performance of what must surely be the greatest girl band of all time -- Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, Mary J Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge (pictured at right flanking Christina Applegate), Ashanti, Natasha Bedingfield, Keyshia Cole, Ciara, Leona Lewis, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood, who rocked out on "Just Stand Up," a single newly released in connection with the fund-raising effort.
When the show ended -- and never has an hour seemed shorter -- me and my "plus one," Jenny, a film score composer and fellow cancer survivor, found a cafe and had coffee and crepes (a rare treat as cancer survivors have to watch the sugar intake) just for the sheer joy of living.
In a city like Hollywood, where youth is worshiped and few of us like to admit that we're suffering from any ailment, let alone something as scary as cancer, Jenny said she now felt more confident about standing up and admitting that she had had -- and beaten -- the disease.
I'm still on the journey. But I was happy to go home and watch the whole show again on TV so that I could have the luxury of weeping through James Taylor and Sheryl Crow's rendition of "Fire and Rain" in private.
(Bobbie Whiteman is an editor at Variety.)