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Anchor for CBS Evening News
Katie Couric is already planning her obituary. Not that she'd like to see it running anytime soon, but the first woman ever to anchor a network evening newscast knows what she wants the lead paragraph to include: "that I contributed to decreasing the mortality rate for colon cancer." Her fight has been a personal crusade since 1998, when her husband -- lawyer and legal analyst Jay Monahan -- died of the disease at 42 after a yearlong battle. In 2000 she famously televised her own colonoscopy on the Today Show as a way to demystify a procedure that many people were too embarrassed to discuss. "I've heard every colonoscopy joke there is," she says. "People might feel like, 'Shut up already. Here she is, talking about colons again.' But I think the benefits far outweigh the negatives."
Indeed, as a cofounder of the Entertainment Industry Foundation's National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance, Couric has not only helped raise more than $33 million for colorectal cancer research and opened the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health, in New York City, but she's also been credited with "the Couric effect."
Soon after her on-air procedure, there was a 20 percent uptick in colonoscopies in the United States. Couric has also broadened her fight against all cancers with her involvement in Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), an organization that raises funds for cutting-edge cancer research. After one year SU2C bestowed research grants totaling $73.6 million. "I felt like I was being selfish focusing only on colon cancer, because people are affected by so many other cancers," says Couric, 53, whose family was stricken again when her older sister Emily, a Virginia state senator, died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. "I thought, Why can't we do something like the Jerry Lewis telethon for cancer, with all the networks involved?" And so, along with folks like Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin, she launched the star-studded SU2C telecast.
"Cancer has changed me in all the ways you would anticipate," she says. "I try to appreciate every day that I am healthy. But it also makes me frustrated and angry that we haven't slayed this dragon."
Getting the Word Out
"It would be criminal not to take advantage of these professional gifts I've been given. I have a bully pulpit from which to communicate a message and educate people. Helping to raise awareness and research dollars is my way of putting my fingerprint on the world in a positive way."
The Healing Power of Giving Back
"Getting involved in the fight against colon cancer offset the helplessness I felt. My daughters got involved, too. They would have bake sales or lemonade stands and all the money would go to colon cancer research. Now whenever I see a lemonade stand, I want to know if the proceeds are going to a charity. I guilt the kids out."
Star of The Good Wife and this month's film City Island
For Julianna Margulies, Project A.L.S. is personal. She first heard about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also called Lou Gehrig's disease) in 1998, when her close friend, theater producer Jenifer Estess, was diagnosed with the terminal illness at age 35. "ALS is slow torture," says Margulies, 43. "Your body shuts down. Jenifer always smiled -- it was the last thing to go. Her organs were shutting down, she couldn't breathe on her own. I went to see her and she was in bed, bloated from all the drugs, but she was smiling. Seeing that makes you treat yourself and your body with more respect." It also made Margulies want to do what she could to help find a cure. Shortly after her diagnosis, Estess and her sisters, Meredith and Valerie, started Project A.L.S., a nonprofit that provides research funds and facilities for doctors searching for treatments and a cure. Though Estess lost her battle in 2003, the organization's fight continues. So far they have raised more than $42 million. To help keep money coming in, Margulies rounds up famous faces for benefits and registered for her 2007 wedding by asking friends to donate in lieu of gifts ("it was a good way for people to learn more about the disease"); she also participates in as many fund-raisers as possible. "I did one where the celebrities waited tables at a restaurant for a night, and all the proceeds went to Project A.L.S. It became a competition between Bryant Gumbel and me. We were in a pissing match, like, I'm going to sell that table of 10 businessmen 12 bottles of Dom Perignon. Watch me."
"I've been approached by so many worthy causes over the years," says Margulies. "There are so many things to be fighting for, you can drive yourself insane. So I figure, let me do the best and most for this one cause. With Project A.L.S., I see the results with every penny we raise. I can look someone in the eye and tell them, if you help, we will find a cure."
Using Her Name for a Greater Good
"As a celebrity, it's my responsibility to give a voice to a cause. That's what I can do to help. But when I meet the doctors who've been working with Project A.L.S. and learn about their research, I feel so inadequate. They're the ones who are doing amazing things."
The Next Step
"Project A.L.S. opened the Jenifer Estess Laboratory for Stem Cell Research, the first privately funded facility of its kind, and that's something to be proud of. I know it's a delicate issue, but stem cell research could affect the world -- and it has nothing to do with unborn babies or killing children. It's about healing a plethora of diseases."
What You Can Do to Help
-- Donate money at eifoundation.org or standup2cancer.org. To fund research for women's cancers, take part (or sponsor an athlete) in the EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women in May in New York City and Los Angeles. You can also start your own online mini fund-raising effort on SU2C's "Teams" subsite. Visit the SU2C virtual store to purchase T-shirts, hats, and pins, with 25 percent of proceeds going to cancer research.
-- Visit projectals.org to donate money; thanks to generous donors, the first effective treatments for this disease now appear within reach. If you want to create your own fund-raising event -- people have initiated everything from cocktail parties to golf tournaments to scrapbook-a-thons -- Project A.L.S. can offer organizational support and help drum up local publicity.
Four-time Academy Award-nominated actress
The America that Julianne Moore saw while growing up was a far cry from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. As the daughter of an Army judge and a social worker, she moved 23 times before she turned 18. "I went to so many different schools -- wealthy ones in counties like Westchester and Fairfax, but also schools in remote areas like Nebraska and Alaska," says Moore, 49. "I saw extreme poverty -- the full socio-economic range. And it became clear to me that not everyone gets a fair shot. It was incredibly disturbing."
And so, three years ago, when a friend took Moore to a New York fund-raiser for Save the Children (STC), a nonprofit that offers advocacy, resources, and programs to poor children abroad and at home, it struck a chord with this mother of two. She quickly asked how she could get involved. "People always assume that being a mother motivated me," says Moore, "but it was my experience as a child that did it."
Since becoming an artist ambassador for STC in 2007, Moore has visited schools in poverty-stricken areas such as Appalachia and has spearheaded the STC Valentine's Day campaign, where proceeds from kid-designed cards go to children in need. To date the program has raised more than $200,000, and this in its first two years. "Because of this ridiculous celebrity I have, I'm able to draw attention to a cause I care about," says Moore. "Children cannot help themselves. They need our help, and that's what this is about."
A Favorite Giving-Back Moment
"Last summer Mark Shriver [managing director of STC's U.S. programs] and I went to Washington and lobbied Congress for a Kids Desk at FEMA. FEMA had nothing earmarked for children. Animals? Yes. Children? No. We asked Congress to allocate special provisions for children, and they said yes. That was very exciting."
Getting Her Kids Involved
"Last Thanksgiving my son, Cal, 12, and daughter, Liv, 7, volunteered at a restaurant in New York City. My kids go to a Quaker school, and it's one of the tenets of the Quaker religion to perform community service. My daughter complained that she didn't get to do as much as she wanted -- she wanted to serve the free dinners but she was too little. We explained that what she did was important: She went to each table and said, 'Happy Thanksgiving.' I told her a lot of people wouldn't come in for free food because they were too embarrassed. By being kind, she was making the day a celebration."
"I met with the American Federation of Teachers about doing a lesson program around Valentine's Day. We should use the holiday to talk to kids about kindness and what it means if you tell someone you love them, but also about how they can help someone in need. If we can start reaching children through schools, talking to them about poverty in the United States, it would be an amazing accomplishment."
What You Can Do to Help
Go to savethechildren.org to donate money or to buy a box of Valentine cards ($20). You can also learn about giveclicks.com, which can direct a percentage of what you spend shopping at over 2,000 retailers nationwide toward STC.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2010.