Add Shelley Ross’ name to the growing list of disciples of the Sisterhood of St. Angelina.
Ross, former executive producer of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’ “Early Show,” underwent a double mastectomy last month after discovering that she, too, carried the BRCA gene, which greatly increases the risk of developing breast cancer.
Ross says it was Jolie’s stunning Op Ed in the New York Times last Tuesday that convinced her to go public, the same day, via her blog, daily Xpress.
“I was literally shocked when I read about her,” Ross, 60, says. “I thought what she did was so smart. It’s an opportunity to expand the dialogue. Like her, I was able to write down all the details. Nobody can interpret this as if I’m dying.”
In this case, “nobody” is Ross’ code for media, which over the years has run some brutal (mostly anonymous) slams against the producer. Still, it was common knowledge that Ross’ uber-intensity had alienated her from many of her coworkers.
Says Ross: “I got the shit end of the stick from the media. It was like a feeding frenzy.”
With her mastectomy, Ross was determined not to repeat that experience, so she told no one outside a small group of friends. They kept her secret, she says.
“My real concern, to be perfectly honest, was with outlets … that have printed false, libelous, damaging, actionable reports, regardless of what I tried to correct,” says Ross.
“If it [mastectomy] got out to what is certainly a small handful of detractors, I would have read about some anonymous person ‘hearing a death rattle.’ I’m not dying and I’m not dead.”
In fact, after six months’ chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and an infection that hospitalized her last week, Ross is so not dead that she’s juggling several major projects.
She’s co-executive producer for Nik Wallenda’s live Discovery special June 23, in which the tightrope artist will walk across the Grand Canyon without a net. (Ross’ husband, David Simone, a music-industry executive, is Wallenda’s manager, she says.)
Ross’ PBS special on The Piano Guys, a Utah quintet and worldwide internet sensation, debuted in March. (Her nickname with the group is Piano Mommy, she says.) Ross discovered the Guys on YouTube, which led to Simone’s signing them to a deal with Sony Masterworks.
She’s managing a planned film project about Johnny Carson, to be based on a memoir by Henry Bushkin, Carson’s lawyer, business partner and pal, to be published Oct. 13. “There’s competitive interest” in the movie, according to Ross. In addition, “other [Carson] things are bubbling.”
And in her free time, Ross is an active member of The Cure Alliance, a non-profit organization that promotes international collaboration to develop innovative, cost-effective cures for diseases, according to the group’s Facebook page.
“The real issue is that we’re not curing diseases in the 21st century that we have the capability to cure,” says Ross. “If I was at a network, I’d assign someone to this as a daily beat, like the White House or the Pentagon.”
Ross says she’s been overwhelmed by the supportive response to her revelation.
“When you don’t disclose an illness, you cut yourself off from a lot of the humanity that goes with it. It was hard, emotionally, to keep such a profound secret. I was thinking it must be what it’s like when you’re in the closet. I don’t want to overdramatize it, but I don’t want to trivialize it, either.
“I’ve been through a lot of pain, and a lot of betrayal. That’s in the past. Right now, I’m surrounded only by people who wish me well. I don’t want to go back to think about petty people who had some obsession with putting lies about me on the internet.
“I’m past it.”