Friends in Deed
Despite the glitz, glitter and marquee names, though, the evening's big attraction was a little-known, 36-year-old mother of two named Jamie Belmont. And the purpose of the party was to raise money for the bone-marrow transplant that may save her life. By the end of the evening, Emergency Blues—at $250 a ticket, $25,000 for a corporate table—pulled in $280,000, half of which went toward Belmont's hospital bills and half to Stop Cancer, an L.A. organization that awards research grants. "It's overwhelming," says Belmont, who met Post and the seven other women who had organized the event through her Mommy and Me parenting support class in Burbank. "All my friends are here, and there's such support and love."
Belmont, who lives in a three-bedroom ranch house in Burbank with her husband, Craig, 39, a building contractor, and their two children, Chad, 5, and Chelsie, 2, has learned to cherish such support. Two years ago, while nursing her newborn daughter, Belmont noticed a lump in her right breast and was told by her doctor that she had a clogged milk duct. By the time another physician made the correct diagnosis—breast cancer—six months had passed, and the cancer had spread to her bone marrow. Without treatment, Belmont was told, she had three months to live.
The oncologist she was referred to, Dr. Roy Jones of the University of Colorado at Denver hospital, told her that her only hope for survival was an autologous bone-marrow transplant—in which the patient's healthy bone-marrow cells are removed, the bone marrow is then killed by chemotherapy and the healthy cells are returned. But because Belmont's insurer, Blue Shield of California, considers the procedure experimental for breast cancer, it refused to cover the $100,000-plus cost.
When Jamie's friends at the Mommy and Me class she had been attending for five years heard about her problem, Belmont recalls, "they went crazy, saying, 'Forget it. Go get treatment. We'll come up with the money'" Silvia Baker, a former movie studio hairstylist, talked to her friend Julie Fogerty, who immediately volunteered the talents of her husband, John. Post, one of Baker's best friends from Mommy and Me, told Hearts Afire executive producers Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason about Belmont. Harry offered Belmont the use of his private Cessna Citation II plane, flying her to and from Denver three times for treatment. On June 27, Jamie finally received the transplant, and during the five weeks she remained hospitalized, Craig's mother's sister Angie Dickinson arranged for a baby-sitter for the kids—June Nelson, wife of David Nelson of Ozzie and Harriet fame.
Despite the psychic toll Jamie's cancer has taken, the Belmonts are determined to remain optimistic. "I want to be there for my children," says Jamie, "to see them graduate." And Craig, who keeps track of every detail of his wife's illness, only rarely admits to exhaustion. "Husbands [of cancer victims] need to understand," he says, "that the woman needs someone then more than any other time."
Though the operation went well, Belmont still faces tough odds: She has a 25 percent chance of survival over the next two years, and three weeks ago the cancer reappeared in her right breast. When she is strong enough, she will undergo a double mastectomy. But Dr. Jones is fighting hard for his patient. "You wish every kid out there running around on the street with guns could have the opportunity to have a mother like her," he says. "That's why we want to keep her around."
Certainly the outpouring of affection for Jamie at her benefit last month showed how many others have come to feel the same way. "This woman could not be brought down," proclaimed Markie Post during a speech at the House of Blues. "She continued taking her kids to Mommy and Me with a chemo pack on her side and a tube going through her chest. She just went on with life." And as Belmont swayed happily about the dance floor until 1 a.m., Post marveled at the generosity and goodwill that made Emergency Blues happen. "Hollywood is known as a cynical place, and it can be," says Post. "But that's not all that it is. There was a real force working for us."
CAROLYN RAMSAY in Los Angeles