All the speakers at Saturday night’s Barbara Berlanti Heroes Gala at Santa Monica Barker Hanger shared personal stories from the podium about how cancer has impacted or taken the lives of loved ones.
Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, honored with a Humanitarian Award, said her “sweet and wonderful” father died seven years ago after a long lung cancer battle; his passing came years after husband Bert Salke lost his mother to breast cancer. “My dad, who I dedicate this honor to tonight, was an incredible husband, father, friend and colleague,” she said. “He fought this disease with hope and courage for years, leaving no stone unturned.” Vanguard Award winner Rachel Zoe said her grandmother, mother, sister and “many close friends” are breast cancer survivors.
Greg Berlanti launched the event in partnership with Fuck Cancer in honor of his mother, who passed from lung cancer in 2017. He shared the stage last night with the organization’s co-founder Yael Cohen, and they both got emotional talking about their respective mothers as Cohen’s has survived the fight.
Then came showrunner Julie Plec.
Singled out with the Barbara Berlanti Hero Award, she was welcomed to the stage by veteran writer and producer Kevin Williamson, who praised Plec for an unwavering friendship over three decades, during which she has always shown up at his door, even in his lowest moments.
In keeping with the night’s unofficial theme, Plec shared a own personal story, hers focused on an unnamed “friend,” someone she called “a little fancy.”
“One day she noticed these, like, little spots on her face and little scabs that weren’t healing right,” detailed the veteran writer, producer and showrunner of such shows as The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and the newest Vampire Academy. “A few months later, she was sitting with her fancy Botox person and [she] asked the Botox lady her opinion on the little scabs on her face. The Botox lady said, ‘In my experience, those tend to be early indicators of skin cancer.’ So, the minute anyone says the c-word, of course, everyone reprioritizes what really matters and how busy they are. My friend got an appointment at her dermatologist.”
The appointment led to some minor procedures to have suspect spots removed from her body. Inspired by the momentum, Plec said her friend remained diligent with preventative measures, and that led to jumping on an offer to have a full body scan from a “super fancy concierge medical service” of which she was a member for the “super fancy price of $4,000.”
“She plunked down her four grand, got the body scanned and waited for the results,” Plec continued. “And then a few days later, she got the call that told her she seemed to have a seven centimeter tumor on her right kidney.”
The concierge team sent the woman to a nephrologist who ordered a CT scan followed by an appointment with a urologist who, in turn, ordered a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed the mass was cancer and the only way to get rid of the tumor was to remove the woman’s kidney.
“In a span of about six weeks, my friend both got diagnosed with cancer and then actually saved from cancer because out with the kidney and the tumor also went the cancer, and now she’s fine,” Plec detailed, before revealing the true identity of her so-called friend. “While I think we can all be happy for my friend for the outcome of her story, I think we can also recognize how bittersweet that outcome is because it’s entirely because of her privilege. Maybe that makes you want to be a little bit mad at her, this fancy lady with fancy access, and I kind of want to be mad at her too but I can’t because she’s me. I’m really happy that she, me, I am able to be standing in front of you tonight minus a kidney, but totally cancer free.”
The story and the revelation elicited cheers and applause from the crowd inside Barker Hanger, a gathering that hosted Warner Bros. Television Group chairman Channing Dungey, Joshua Jackson, Hailey Bieber, Jesse L. Martin, Peter Facinelli, Tyler Hoechlin, Sara Foster, Aisha Tyler and others. In addition to the awards program, the night also featured performances by Tori Kelly, En Vogue and the Scarlet Opera as well as a live auction orchestrated by comedian Maz Jobrani.
As for Plec, she closed her creatively told personal tale by opening her wallet for the fundraiser that garnered $1.4 million for the nonprofit’s mission of improving health outcomes by providing early detection, prevention, and support programs for individuals and communities affected by cancer.
“The point is early detection is important. In the spirit of recognizing both my privilege but also celebrating that privilege and what it allows me to do, what I’m about to do is join Barbara Berlanti in saying ‘fuck cancer.’ I would like to pledge $100,000 so that we can keep fighting the good fight to get this kind of life-saving lightning bolt for everybody.”