Last week I traveled to Chicago, where I broadcast the Evening News on Friday and delivered a speech to the American Cancer Society on Saturday. But in-between, I revisited a city where I had once tried to get a job when I was just starting out. That job didn't work out, but the trip last week proved to be an incredible success.
After 19 years at NBC, I wanted to get to get to know our CBS affiliate WBBM first hand and see the exciting work that General Manager Joe Ahern was doing there. Besides rebuilding the station, he's actually building a new studio across from City Hall. WBBM has some interesting history of its own: it's where the first televised presidential debates took place, and we were working right next door to that studio. It made me think about how far we've come in the packaging and selling of our candidates. In that first debate, America witnessed a sweating and uncomfortable Richard Nixon with his five o'clock shadow trying to make points against the dashing John F. Kennedy who, with proper make-up and coaching, came off more like a movie star than a politician. It is no wonder the people who heard the debate on the radio had an entirely different impression of the candidates than those who saw those first fuzzy black and white images.
But one doesn't go to Chicago just to do the news and raise money for the American Cancer Society. One goes to Chicago to eat. And eat I did. Our executive producer, Rick Kaplan, is a Chicago native; so he took it upon himself to give me a magic gastronomical tour of the Windy City.
First stop: Dinner at Rosebud Steakhouse. Next meal we hit Pizzeria Due for Chicago style deep dish pizza. Then we stopped by Garrett's on Michigan Avenue for some caramel corn. We also made it to the Billy Goat Tavern made famous by Belushi's famous "Cheezburger, cheezburger" SNL sketch. This was followed rapidly by Portillo's for hot dogs (hold the catsup) and Kasia's for Polish dumplings. I ate so much sausage and beef on Saturday afternoon that I found myself rooting for "Da Bears" and bemoaning another tough start for the Cubs. My assistant is from Park Ridge so whatever Rick missed, she filled in. I will never forget Chicago. In fact the memories (and the heartburn) are still with me.
Rick took me for a walk along the lakefront -- which was easy for him at 6'7", but it meant I had to take three steps for every one of his. It was like trying to keep up with Michael Jordan. Rick took me to the Oak Street Beach where, as an 18-year-old, he worked as a lifeguard. He told how one day he made a spectacular rescue that so impressed a bevy of Playboy Bunnies sunning themselves there that they invited him back to the Playboy Mansion. Rick was very quick to assure me that "nothing happened." (Apparently, even then, he knew how to edit the news…)
On Saturday night I spoke before the Illinois Division of the American Cancer Society at an event that raised over one million dollars. I would like to share with you some of what I had to say that night. Part of the remarks are reprinted below. I think you'll understand why this cause is so close to me and so crucial for all of us.
Tonight we've been able to see how the American Cancer Society is at the forefront of research, advocacy initiatives, education, and how it serves as a source of support for patients and their families.
Recently CBS did a report on the dwindling federal funding for cancer research. The funding for the national cancer institute had been going up steadily for a decade, but, in the last two years that funding has been drastically cut-40% less this year alone.
Instead of 1 in 5 proposals for new research being funded, the NCI now only funds 1 in 10. That has a ripple effect that directly affects us all. As one doctor in our report put it: "we are pulling the rug out from the world's best infrastructure for cancer research."
That's why your support and generosity have never been so critical. Tonight's event alone has raised over one million dollars. Private funding for cancer research is desperately needed and it's making a real difference.
The Illinois Division's patient navigation service has been indispensable when it comes to helping thousands of people - many of them uninsured and disenfranchised -- navigate the often complicated, scary, and bureaucratic world of cancer treatment and prevention. it guided over10,000 people last year and has become the model of other ACS divisions nationwide.
And while we're at it -- may i just say to you: thank you for not smoking. This division led a coalition that made Chicago smoke-free in December of 2005 - an ordinance that has now been passed by 46 communities - and thanks to you, legislation to make all of Illinois a smoke-free state will be on the governor's desk by next month. so you're really making the world a better and healthier place.
I don't have to tell you that a wonderful organization like the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society can make a difference. But let me tell you about how you, as individuals, can also make a huge contribution as well. you, alone, can change things and make something real happen.
In april of 1997, spring was in the air, Ellen was coming out of the closet and my handsome, healthy 41-year-old husband, Jay Monahan was dying. Out of nowhere, he was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colon cancer. The life i knew changed in an instant. Our daughter, Ellie, was five and Carrie had just turned one. I spent my days calling pharmaceutical companies, reading oncology journals, grilling experts in search of that magic bullet that would make Jay well, or at least allow him to live long enough to see a new effective drug come through the pipeline. Despite Jay's tremendous will to live, his grace, dignity and extraordinary humor, and my desire and efforts to save him, we lost the battle on January 24th, 1998. It's hard to believe it has been almost 10 years. I still miss him so much.
After his death, I decided I had to do something to combat the powerlessness I felt and the lack of awareness that existed about this #2 cancer killer of men and women in this country. That's why it seemed like a no-brainer to allow people to see another part of my body!
My on-air colonoscopy was just the beginning. We decided to start a movement (probably bad choice of words!) and I established the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance to educate, raise research dollars and come up with better prevention strategies, diagnostic techniques, and treatment options. Our board of leading scientists have benefitted from the $28 million we have raised. The money has enabled us to produce PSA's featuring people like Monty Schultz, who's father-the creator of "Peanuts," Charles Schultz, died of this disease. And Sean Ferrer-the son of one of my favorite actresses and people of all time, Audrey Hepburn who also lost her life to colon cancer. Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman have also become warriors in the battle to fight colon cancer.
This may not be the stuff of cocktail conversation, but I never want anyone to die of embarrassment. So if you are 50 or older, get your butts to the doctor!
I promise the prep is worse than the procedure. Believe me-calling the liquid you drink "Go Lightly" is the ultimate oxymoron! (Ladies-think of it as a colonic!). Talking to your doctor about getting screened for colon cancer is the best way you can possibly honor me or my husband.
And feel free to tell me all about it-everyone else does! Just yesterday i heard a newswriter describe his 3 polyps and someone else who felt her life was saved by an insistent doctor who would not allow her to say no to a colonoscopy. She was 52. One man actually sent me an x-ray of his colon. I was like "thank you for sharing!" A sense of humor is important-Robin Williams told me, after his colonoscopy: "It wasn't the camera that bothered me, it was the crew!"
In 2004 we opened the Jay Monhan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Jay's nine-month ordeal was made even more harrowing by the battalion of doctors and specialists we had to see as his cancer progressed. I thought it was a true public service to establish a center where patients and their families could go for integrated, seamless, comprehensive care. A place that treats the patient, the family-and not just the disease. The Monahan Center has helped countless families over the past few years, and in a way helped heal my family too. It is a place where Jay's legacy is helping others live. One of my finest moments was when my daughter, ellie - then nine - looked up at me in the kitchen one day and completely unsolicited said, "Mom, i'm so proud of the work you're doing in colon cancer." In fact, despite any professional success i've enjoyed, this is the work i will always be most proud of.
Who of us hasn't been touched by cancer? Ironically, just a few years after my sister Emily --as a state senator of Virginia --sponsored legislation requiring insurance companies to pay for screening colonoscopies, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My wonderful, whip-smart and dedicated oldest sister, who set the bar for all the Couric kids lost her battle five years ago at 54 years old.
Surely at a time when we can put a picture-taking robot on mars and cram all of the information of an encyclopedia Brittanica on a tiny microchip, we can surely muster the national will to come up with a way to eradicate cancer-if not in our lifetimes, in the lifetimes of our children.
There are so many exciting new advances, so many brilliant, tireless researchers who are dedicating their lives, 24/7 just to this. the wonderful thing is, all of us are part of this effort by our very presence here tonight. This discovery ball will help lead to real discoveries that will make a real difference.
Thank you so much for including me in your special evening, but i am thrilled to be here to celebrate you, and your commitment to one of the greatest resources on the face of this earth: people.