Today, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric will attend the groundbreaking for a new medical center named for her sister Emily, a Virginia state senator who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. The Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center at the University of Virginia is scheduled to open in three years. It is described as “a $74 million outpatient facility that will be both technically advanced and designed for compassionate care.”
Before this week’s news concerning her professional life, Couric answered our questions about this very personal cause. Couric discusses the new Center, as well as her involvement in cancer awareness, research funding, and patient care — causes she has championed since the death of her husband, Jay Monahan, of colon cancer ten years ago.
TVNewser: When you think about your dedication to cancer awareness (including your on-air colonoscopy in 2000 — with its ‘Couric effect’, a spike in colonoscopy rates among the public — and your co-founding the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance), does it seem like a whole other dimension has been added to your life?
Couric: It is by far my proudest accomplishment. To think that there are people walking around because you helped motivate them to get screened is an unparalleled feeling. It’s been healing for me and I hope important for my daughters to see the power of helping others and the importance of resiliency.
TVNewser: In 1998, upon your return to Today after taking time off to grieve the loss of your husband, you said on-air something to the effect of seeing others going about ‘business as usual’ and feeling like you could not imagine life being like that again. How do you describe your life ten years later, then?
Couric: The feeling I was describing after Jay’s death was the excruciating pain and uncertainty of living with a serious, life-threatening illness. It is all consuming. It’s something you think of every waking moment and dream about at night. When you are in that zone, you watch everyone else with a mixture of fury and envy for the normal, relatively stress-free lives they’re living. It’s been ten years now, and while I never thought I would laugh or have a frivolous thought again, I have returned to a peaceful, less anxiety-ridden existence.
More from Couric, after the jump…
(Photo: CBS News)
TVNewser: What do you do to keep Jay’s memory alive for your daughters, to make sure they know what he was like?
Couric: There are photos all over the house. I just found some really cool black and white photos from when Jay was in his twenties and did some modeling. They are hilarious…he looks like a real anglophile or a member of the landed gentry. I framed them and now Ellie and Carrie have them hanging in their rooms.
I still talk about him whenever I can and we remain close to his family, which keeps his memory alive as well. Whenever I hear about a news story with a legal angle, I always wonder what he would think about it.
TVNewser: It’s almost four years now since the opening of The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health in New York, which you helped found. Has it become the type of resource you wish had existed for you and Jay — a center with a multidisciplinary, ‘seamless’ approach to patient care? What are you most proud of with regard to the Center?
Couric: I am really proud that so many people have gone through the center, approximately 2,000 people, and they’ve had a positive experience. We treat the patient, not the disease (well, the wonderful staff does, I’m not practicing medicine in my spare time!) and there are so many professionals to help, from genetic counselors to nutritionists to radiologists to social workers. I know it is a welcoming place and that’s what people need during a very scary time.
But the emphasis is also on prevention. Hopefully, we can encourage patients to be proactive. That’s why we named it The Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health!
TVNewser: With today’s groundbreaking for the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, what are your hopes for how it will help people?
Couric: I will be on hand as will be siblings and parents. This has been a dream, kept alive mostly by Emily’s husband, George, and her two sons, Ray and Jeff, ever since she lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.
Emily cared deeply about her constituents and when she went through her ordeal she automatically thought about the broader community. That’s just the kind of person she was. She wanted a top clinical care center that would help entire families. The outpouring of support for this project has been overwhelming and gratifying.
TVNewser: Had you ever discussed the possibility of an Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center with your sister before she passed away?
Couric: No, not really. With both Emily and Jay we didn’t talk about things like that. That conversation would mean the death of hope and I could never stop hoping.
TVNewser: What do you believe Jay would say about all the work you’ve done for cancer research, awareness, and patient care?
Couric: I think he’d be really proud, obviously. But he would still be really enraged that he’s not here to witness it. Or maybe he is.