(WOMENSENEWS)–March 27, 1995
"Welcome to the 67th Annual Academy Awards," the handsome young valet attendant said as he opened the door of our black town car. As he reached in to help me out, I quickly slipped out of my sneakers and into heels. I stepped onto the red carpet, reached for my husband’s hand and took my first deep breath of the fresh spring air that was alive with anticipation of the evening to come.
Thousands of anxious, screaming fans overflowed from the temporary bleachers lining the boulevard. The thunder of their cheers made the wooden structures sway. Hundreds of paparazzi crowded shoulder-to-shoulder, yelling celebrity names in hopes of getting that one perfect shot.
Producers dressed in their black-on-black event outfits pushed through the crowds, talking on their headsets, confirming which stars had arrived and were ready for live television interviews. Publicists, their worker-bee status obvious from their non-jeweled business attire, scurried behind their celebrities, making sure every hair was in place, each piece of lint removed, before the red-carpet cameras rolled.
The imposing Shrine Auditorium stood at the top of the staircase, waiting for the arrival of the biggest names in entertainment. I wore my new black taffeta Ralph Lauren dress and sheer coat with fabulous chandelier earrings that dusted my shoulders as I walked.
Judging from the stares of the crowd, on the outside I looked Oscar worthy. On the inside, the pain pills that I had just managed to swallow as the limo pulled up to the Shrine were attempting to mask my secret inner battle. I had only one goal: Make it through the evening.
Pinnacle of Success
It doesn’t get much better than the Academy Awards for those of us who work in entertainment, as both my husband and I did. Hollywood boasts dozens of awards shows, but being invited to the Academy Awards is considered the pinnacle of success. My husband Shelly was president of television distribution at Universal Studios. I was a television style reporter, working on "Entertainment Tonight," "Oprah," "NBC Nightly News" and "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee."
We had met eight years earlier at the Hollywood Television Executives luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and married three years later, to the day. Life was paradise. Little did we know that over the next seven years a chronic disease would invade my body and try to take it all away from us.
We were truly a power couple. Our social life involved premieres, screenings, political functions, charity events and glamorous parties. Our business life involved power brokers and celebrities; Shelly worked in back of the camera, I was in front. Given my family roots, it was the least likely place for me to end up.
On this warm March afternoon we walked up the red carpet at the Oscars with hundreds of A-listers. Waiting for the auditorium doors to open, Shelly chatted with Lucy Salhany, president of television at Fox, and David Geffen, who had recently launched DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Geffen defied the traditional tuxedo with his trademark black T-shirt and suit. I remembered thinking he looked like a young man who had crashed the party.
Because of the throbbing pain running uncontrollably through my body, I couldn’t concentrate on anything they were saying, but that was fine because spouses are almost invisible when executives are together. They didn’t notice me shift from foot to foot, trying to find some relief from the pressure of standing on my swollen feet, which by now were bulging out of my designer shoes.
Today, because of the unusually hot weather, every woman’s feet were most likely hurting, but my pain was from rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that was taking over my body and, unfortunately, my life.
The medical definition of rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints and also other organs. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system. The immune system contains a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to seek and destroy invaders of the body, particularly infections. The definition that really hit home for me was simply when my doctor said that my immune system was attacking itself, actually eating away at my own bones and joints.
Today that was exactly what it felt like. The gnawing made my insides scream with pain each time I made the slightest movement with my feet, or the smallest shift of a leg. A tiny step felt like bits of gravel were grinding against the bones in my feet. Even when I was standing completely still my body ached, but I had to keep my outside together.
Shelly and I sought out a place in the shade even though the celebrity viewing was not as good.
"Shelly, I’m melting," I complained, dabbing at my forehead, trying not to disturb my makeup.
"It’s not too bad. Maybe you’re just overheated," he said, distracted by all the hoopla.
"Maybe," I replied. I didn’t want to let on that I was having one of my bad days. Lately there had been far too many bad days and I had decided my husband ought not to have to deal with every one, especially at the Academy Awards.
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Christine Schwab is a television personality and a three-time author.
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