Giuliana and Bill Rancic explain their latest cancer awareness initiative (Exclusive)
It's been nearly eight years since E! News host Giuliana Rancic, arguably the most recognizable red carpet personality in the world, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She found out about her diagnosis while shooting the second season of the popular E! reality show, "Giuliana and Bill," and made the quick decision to film her cancer battle, in the hopes that it could shine a light on the disease and let others know that they're not alone.
"We sat down and we decided we would use this platform to make a difference," husband Bill Rancic explained during an exclusive interview with AOL's Gibson Johns. "A day doesn’t go by where someone doesn't stop one of us to thank us for doing that. It was ultimately her decision, but her bravery inspired a lot of people and that’s what we’re trying to do here."
Rancic ultimately underwent a double mastectomy and has been cancer-free for over seven years. In that time, she and her husband have dedicated a portion of their lives to continuing to raise cancer awareness through countless initiatives and projects in the hopes of making a difference in people's lives, big or small.
Their latest projects comes in the form of their partnership with the C3 Prize (Changing Cancer Care), which is a challenge sponsored by Astellas Oncology and funds non-treatment ideas to improve cancer care for both patients and their caregivers that are submitted by the public.
During a recent interview with AOL, Giuliana and Bill Rancic opened up about their dedication to improving lives of cancer patients around the world, Giuliana's own battle with breast cancer and how their willingness to speak out has made their lives that much more rewarding.
Find out more about the C3 Prize here and check out our conversation with Giuliana and Bill Rancic below:
This is your second year working with the C3 Prize. Talk to me about last year's experience and why you wanted to continue to encourage people to submit their ideas for the contest?
Bill Rancic: Last year’s experience was amazing. I traveled to the Global Cancer Congress in Malaysia, which is basically where people gather once a year to improve cancer care and all the ancillary challenges that come with cancer care, and we had submissions from all over the world to win the C-3 Prize. Ultimately, the winner was a woman from Africa who had an idea to create videos to help de-stigmatize breast cancer throughout the region. She won $50,000 and that was going to fund her business for two years to create these videos and help women realize it’s not a death sentence. It’s very treatable if it’s caught early, but unfortunately in these underserved countries access to good information is so hard to come by and, where she lives, there’s a stigma that says if you have breast cancer, you’re dead. We all know that’s not the case, and these videos will impact a lot of lives. To think that $50,000 will fund this program for two years and potentially reach hundreds of thousands of women, how many people are going to live much longer because of this? For me and Giuliana, we thought this is a powerful platform to be a part of.
And that’s just $50,000. This year it’s bigger -- it's $200,000 total, so the impact is already being amplified. What do you hope to get out of this year?
Bill: Hopefully we’ll get a lot more submissions, because this is the fourth year that the C3 Prize has been in effect, but we’re also giving away more than just money: I’m going to help mentor them and help bring those ideas to life and arm them with the tools they need to succeed and grow and have the biggest impact possible.
Giuliana Rancic: There are also multiple winners this year: It’s more spread out, so more people will be able to fund their ideas. We’re excited about it. I was diagnosed just over 7 years ago: I was 36, no family history, it was a huge shock. I was fortunate enough to receive great medical treatment and that’s obviously a huge part of it. But, when you go home from the hospital, you still have cancer, and what’s wonderful about this contest is that people can come up with ideas that are non-treatment. You don’t have to be a doctor or a scientist. It’s beyond that. It’s really for the everyday life of someone going through this: How can you better their lives and make their lives easier? That’s just so important.
Bill: One of the biggest challenges cancer patients face, believe it or not, is transportation: Getting to and from treatments. There’s Uber and Lyft and all these things, but patients want to be with someone they know because they’re having so much anxiety. That’s the No.1 challenge and you don’t think about it. Also, access to information. There are a lot of ancillary challenges that we’re really trying to solve for cancer patients and their caretakers.
It’s not necessarily about curing cancer -- it’s really about meeting people where they are, which is so important.
Giuliana: I love that. I have to tell you: I never really made the correlation until recently, but when I went back to work after getting my double mastectomy, the last thing on my mind was hair makeup and wardrobe. There I was getting my hair and makeup done my first day back at E! and I remember looking up and, for the first time in a really long time, I recognized that face in the mirror. I had been really lost in all of the treatment and everything I was going through for so long that I kind of forgot who I was without cancer. Here I was, the person I knew before the cancer and that was such a defining moment for me in terms of my recovery. That night, Bill and I were driving to dinner and I was telling him this story and told him how much hope it gave me. I said, "Gosh, I wish everyone could feel like this in my shoes." That’s the moment I came up with the idea to grant wishes to women that are going through treatment: We give makeovers, shopping sprees, trips, celebrity experiences where you can just be yourself again and just not think about the cancer for a day. That’s exactly what this contest is all about: Whether you’re a survivor, a caretaker, know someone who’s been through cancer… is there something that could be an idea here that could help others?
Some of it comes down trying to maintain a positive outlook while battling cancer, too. Were there moments for you that could spark positivity during your cancer battle?
Giuliana: I remember when I would be in an uncomfortable situation, like prepping for surgery or getting a procedure done, and it’s tough. A couple of things helped me: One was the phrase, “This too shall pass,” and I would repeat that over and over again in my head. That was really helpful because just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel kept me going. The other one was that, when I opened up about what I was going through, I did it because I thought that if I could get breast cancer at age 36 with no family history, anybody could get this. If I can just get out there and say that and tell people to get checked, it has an incredible survival rate when caught early. What I didn’t realize was what I would get in return from speaking out on social media: It was incredible the amount of support I got from around the world, and I remember this one word would always show up: Strong. Be strong. Stay strong. That word always resonated in my mind, and I would picture those posts. It was actually very helpful. Just sharing your story in general and people helping you through it, you never know what could come out of that to help you.
We mentioned earlier that this C3 Prize is trying to also focus on the caregiver, which is so important. People often forget about the person taking care of them, and the person taking care of them might think it’s selfish to even think about themselves while a loved one battles cancer. How did you guys approach that balance for yourselves and what do you want to encourage others to do?
Bill: The caregiver wears lot of different hats. My mom was a caregiver to my dad, so I had a very good role model and the one thing she did was that she was there to help my dad make good decisions. I knew that my No.1 role was to help Giuliana make good decisions based on knowledge and not emotion. Whenever you hear the words, “You have cancer,” it’s overwhelming and you never think it’s going to happen to you, so I was there to help surround her with good people and good information so that we could avoid making decisions coming from the gut. You wear a lot of different hats: You’re a chauffeur, you’re a short order cook, you’re a comedian… but that was, for me, the most important thing. You’re a team, too, and that’s how we looked at it. That’s life: You make a commitment to each other in sickness and in health. You have to put yourself on the back burner. It wasn’t about me.
Giuliana: I was so fortunate to have Bill as my caregiver and to have support 24 hours a day, and I can’t imagine having to go through that without him and a lot of people do. A lot of people go through cancer without someone right by their side. In the middle of the night, I would often wake up scared, crying, or what have you, and I couldn’t imagine if I had been alone during those times. We were talking about it before: Maybe there’s a solution there; what can we do for those people?
It seems like you guys have dedicated a portion of your lives to raising cancer awareness. You’ve been involved in other initiatives in the past, and it’s clearly become one of your lives’ missions to work on this. Was that something that you immediately thought was going to happen? Or did it take some time to reflect on the cancer experience before you could channel that energy into doing good?
Bill: It came pretty quickly, because we were in the midst of shooting season 2 of the “Giuliana and Bill" show. We had to make a decision: Are we going to showcase this and put it out there for everyone to see? We sat down and we decided we would use this platform to make a difference. A day doesn’t go by where someone doesn't stop one of us to thank us for doing that. It was ultimately her decision, but her bravery inspired a lot of people and that’s what we’re trying to do here.
Giuliana: We had just opened up about infertility on the show, and suddenly everywhere we went people would come up to us -- 1 in 4 couples deals with infertility -- and whisper, “I’m also going through this.” It was hard to open up about that, but we started to see that we were able to serve as a place for comfort to a lot of people. We never expected that to be the effect of opening up, so when it was time to make a decision about breast cancer, because we had been through that and seen the effects, that definitely played a role. We realized what a privilege it was to have this platform and reach to many people. It was important. E! is in 160 countries! It’s an international show, and we were hearing from people all over the world. It was incredible.
It proves that cancer doesn't discriminate: It's a human issue.
Giuliana: And the more people talk and open up about it, the better it feels. There’s comfort in numbers and it takes the stigma away and suddenly you have to talk about it. To bottle these emotions up ... it’s unhealthy. To be able to talk about it freely is powerful. The more you open up, the more help you can get.
You’ve always had a big platform, but it makes it much more powerful when you’re talking about something that can impact so many lives. How often do you get the chance to reflect on where you were when you were battling cancer and where you are now back on E! officially?
Giuliana: I’ve been at E! since 2001 -- 18 years -- and when I started there and even beyond, I never thought that we would be here today talking about this. Honestly, I just loved movies, fashion and TV shows. And also writing, interviewing, hosting. And I just wanted to marry those two: I was loving life and had a career that I loved, and I never expected it to take the turn it took. I've had a lot of incredible moments on the red carpet, but nothing is more rewarding than talking about this and things that could save a life. My career is more rewarding than I ever pictured it would be.
This interview has been edited and condensed.