Suzanne Somers fights breast cancer with unusual tactics
Suzanne Somers finds a bit of absurdity in her quarterly exams. "People are walking in and out, in and out, I'm naked and some guy is pressing my breasts, lifting them, poking them, feeling them," Somers, 55, says with a laugh. "But when the doctors go, 'Looks good,' I get to walk away saying, 'I beat the odds again!' " The Three's Company star-turned-diet-and-fitness-guru saw her credibility questioned last spring when tabloids revealed she'd had liposuction. Yes, she had undergone the surgery, Somers admitted, but not to stay svelte. Rather, it was to relieve swelling caused by radiation treatments after a lumpectomy to remove a tumor from her right breast (PEOPLE, April 30). More surprisingly, she said that instead of conventional chemotherapy and tamoxifen, she takes injections of Iscador, a mistletoe extract some holistic doctors believe boosts the immune system. "This is my personal fight. I take information, sift through it and make my own decisions," Somers asserts. "This is her position and we respect it," says her skeptical oncologist, Dr. James Waisman, adding, "There's no evidence of disease and she's doing terrific." The Thighmistress, who released her ninth book, Somersize Desserts, this month, kicks back in L.A. with Alan Hamel, 65, her manager-husband of 24 years. "Once in a while I wear something that shows a little cleavage just so people know I have two breasts and they're fine," Somers says. "They're fine, and they're mine."
It takes a village to help twin sisters care for their motherless twin brothers
For most high school seniors, the world revolves around college applications, driver's ed and the prom. But for twin sisters Chanthan and Chantha Khiev of Oakland, Calif., life centers on the infant brothers they have cared for since February, when their mother, Khorn, died giving birth (PEOPLE, June 11). Like their 18-year-old sisters, the twin boys are identical, but Chanthan knows a way to tell them apart: "Nicholas crawls backward and Joshua crawls hyperfast." With their father, Norn, 50, unemployed and disabled from the Cambodian war, and older sister Sokhoun, 19, in college, Chanthan and Chantha took on the maternal burden. They put in a full day—up at 6 a.m., change, feed and dress the babies, go to school, come home, do homework and watch the babies—but lately they've had help. A trust at a local bank supplements public assistance for the struggling family, and funds raised by Karen Grace, their former teacher, pay for daycare during school hours. Their father, sister and brothers Dararath, 17, and Eric, 15, do pitch in, but Chanthan and Chantha, who plan to attend community college, still do the heavy lifting. "They have good days and bad," says Grace, 29. "But they're survivors." Still, they grieve for their mother. In Cambodian tradition, Norn built a shrine to Khorn in the living room of their bungalow. "It seems like she's here right now," says Chantha. "She's like a spirit."
Two for the Road
Cuddles the minihorse graduates first in her class of Seeing Eye guides
Blind bait-shop owner Dan Shaw of Ellsworth, Maine, can't help but marvel at his constant companion Cuddles, a miniature horse. "When I go to a mall and say, 'Find the elevator,' she will find it and push the button," he says. Two years old and 25 inches high, Cuddles is the first graduate of Janet and Don Burleson's Guide Horse Foundation, a Kittrell, N.C., farm where minihorses are trained to assist the sightless (PEOPLE, Feb. 26). As adept as guide dogs, the equines have at least one major advantage: They often live to be 40. "We were totally surprised that they were so easily housebroken," adds Janet, 47, a horse trainer and graphics designer, who with Don, 45, the owner of a database company, started the foundation in 2000. Relying on their own funds and donations (some $15,000 this year), the Burlesons have a class of nine and a waiting list of 85 possible owners. Not every pupil graduates. Nevada, for instance, simply got too tall (at 28 inches he couldn't fit under tables) and went to live with Shaw, 45, and his wife, Ann, 48, as Cuddles's companion. The couple witnessed a heartfelt reunion. "Cuddles had actual tears in her eyes," says Shaw, who lets both minihorses into his workshop to watch TV and munch Cheerios. "They were so happy to see each other."
Game, Set, Life
A tennis champion with leukemia now takes things one day at a time
She hoisted the mixed-doubles cup at January's Australian Open, but nearly a year later Corina Morariu counts waking up in her own bed as her greatest victory. Diagnosed in May with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a blood cancer that causes severe internal bleeding (PEOPLE, Sept. 3), Morariu, 23, has endured four courses of intensive chemotherapy. In October she sweated out a bone-marrow test. "I had some trouble sleeping in the days leading up to it," she says. "When it came back negative, it was a huge relief." Her neurologist father, Albin, 61, says his "extremely resilient, extremely optimistic" daughter has weathered the side effects—pain, hair loss, nausea—with just one complaint. "She was disappointed she couldn't be here for Thanksgiving," he says, "so we took Thanksgiving to her at the hospital." As for the future career of the 1999 Wimbledon doubles champ, husband and coach Andrew Turcinovich, 35, says, "We'll worry about that when the time comes. She's focusing on her health." Now his wife watches him head for the courts while she stays in their Boca Raton, Fla., home and cooks or visits with 4-month-old nephew Collin. "If I get bored, I cuddle with him," she says. "He makes all my troubles go away."
Digging in Dumpsters, the Garcias buy their kids a better life
Once, Mexican immigrants Rogelio and Yolanda Garcia were ashamed of their work—rummaging 13 hours a day through the Dumpsters of Venice, Calif., to support three children and send them to college (PEOPLE, June 18). "In Mexico I worked in an office and had two brothers who were engineers," says Yolanda, 51. "I was so afraid my family there would find out what we did." But now the couple, who have recycled 45,000 cans and bottles a month since unemployment drove them to it eight years ago, can hold their heads high: When the Garcias' saga aired on TV this past summer, Yolanda's father called. "He said he was proud of us," she recalls, "and that no honorable job is shameful." Especially in light of the payoff: With scholarship aid, elder son Rogelio Jr., 21, is a senior at MIT following an internship at engineering giant Raytheon. Daughter Adrianne, 20, is a senior at UC Riverside, and Angel, 15, is thriving in high school. "My dream is to help them so they don't have to work so hard," Rogelio Jr. says of his parents, who still rise at 1 a.m. each day to scour trash bins. Their monthly income rarely exceeds $1,600, but recently the Garcias, who became citizens in 2000, got an assist. Anonymous donors now pay rent on an airy three-bedroom home in Inglewood, a far cry from the cramped flat they shared in Venice. "What the Garcias have sacrificed," says California State Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, "doesn't just change the lives of their children. It changes future generations of their family and the Latino community."
Armed for Living
With new—and improved—bionic limbs, Diamond Excell embraces the world
Born without arms, Diamond Excell had a seemingly impossible dream: "To look the same as other kids." And so the Miami 11-year-old was thrilled in the spring when she was fitted with a pair of bionic arms, covered by realistic-looking Spandex "skin" (PEOPLE, May 7). Unfortunately there was a glitch. Triggered by sensors responding to the muscles' electrical impulses, the arms would "freak out," overloading when there was too much activity, explains prosthetics designer Eugenio R. Silva, 39, who, with inventor Ivan Yeager, created the device. With the help of rehabilitation director Helga Robinette of Miami Children's Hospital, Silva redesigned the prosthesis—a shell that fits over Diamond's torso and houses electronic hardware. The girl now uses a bone at each shoulder to press buttons inside the prosthetic arms. One button selects a joint (elbow, wrist or hand), a second opens it, a third closes it. For Diamond, who once used her feet to do everything from eat to operate her computer, the arms made it possible to achieve two special goals: giving mom Delia, 28, a hug and riding a bike. Diamond needs training to master the prosthesis, and she'll have it adjusted as she grows. But Robinette, who works with her regularly, sees a bright future. "I'm going to learn more from her," she says, "than she will from me."
Thicker Than Water
Saved from death by her baby brother's stem cells, Molly Nash ventures out into life and the first grade
Molly Nash is just 7, but already she has formed a transcendent bond with her 1-year-old brother Adam. Born with Fanconi anemia, a rare and fatal blood disorder, Molly received a lifesaving infusion of stem-cell-rich blood from her brother's umbilical cord in September 2000 (PEOPLE, Feb. 12). It was a medical first: A test-tube baby, Adam was conceived specifically to restore Molly's failing immune system and confirmed as a perfect donor while an eight-cell embryo. The procedure worried some ethicists, who feared the advent of genetically engineered "designer children." Tell that to ex-neonatal nurse Lisa Nash, 35, who savors her daughter's smile as Molly bounds off the school bus in Englewood, Colo. "She's extraordinarily happy," Nash says of the first grader, who had been homeschooled and kept indoors to avoid germs for much of her first six years. "She was so sick for so long I don't think we knew the real Molly." She turns out to be an equestrienne. "I love, love, love horses," stresses the 'N Sync fan who is equally devoted to her ballet classes. But not to doctors. "She hates them," says her father, Jack, 37, a hotel manager. Yet they're still part of life for Molly, who must undergo yearly liver biopsies and frequent MRIs. "With regard to the transplant, everything went perfectly," says Dr. John Wagner of the University of Minnesota's Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. "Molly's prognosis is very good."
The Quad Squad
A surrogate mom gives her friends the ultimate gift—times four
There are friends, and there are friends like Debbie Vibber. After watching Stacey and David Beehler suffer through their 10th miscarriage in 14 years, Vibber volunteered to be a surrogate mother. And then some: In June she became only the third woman in U.S. history to deliver surrogate quadruplets (PEOPLE, July 23). "Physically and mentally I'm okay," says Vibber, 30, who lives near the Beehlers in a Phoenix suburb. "Now it's just fun to help take care of the babies and watch them grow." The 6-month-olds are developing normally, each with a unique personality. David Austin, the oldest, is the outgoing one, and Michele Lynn is "all smiles," says Stacey, 35. "Kylee Ileen, she's very laidback; Shiann Nicole, she's pretty temperamental." And how are Mom and Dad holding up? "Fabulous," Stacey asserts. "The babies have been sleeping through the night, and so have I." Adds an admittedly wearier David, 36: "It's my dream come true." But reality can be a rude awakening. Apart from caring for four babies 24-7, there's the cost. A supervisor at an equipment-rental store, David works full-time and Stacey puts in a few hours a week from home for her ex-employer Wells Fargo. "We're struggling," she concedes. Still, with relatives' help, the Beehlers sent Debbie, husband Phil, 33, and their two kids to Disneyland in September. "We had a blast," says Debbie, though the gesture wasn't necessary. "All I needed was to know Stacey and Dave are happy and the babies healthy."
Alive and Hicc-ing
Victory still eludes Seth Dowell in his breathtakingly long battle with the hiccups
They're a little less frequent—he'll sometimes get two hours of peace before they inevitably start back up—but more than a year after wolfing down a Subway veggie sandwich, he still lets out a loud hic! dozens of times a day (PEOPLE, June 25)—even in his sleep. "To me it's as normal as getting up in the morning," says Seth Dowell, 21, a pharmacy technician at a Salt Lake City Rite Aid. "They're such a part of my life, they don't bother me."
That doesn't mean he wants to keep them. Dowell has tried 90 percent of the mostly kooky cures people have suggested (including sucking on a Worcestershire-soaked lemon Jay Leno gave him on a Tonight Show visit in May) and is still sent remedies via mail. The only thing to stop the glottal spasms so far is a muscle relaxant—but the pills made the part-time pharmaceutical student too drowsy. "Seth will hiccup at work and a customer will say, 'Hey, did you hear about that guy who's had the hiccups for a year?' " says pharmacist Judy Anderson, 48. "One of us will say, 'Well, this is the guy!' " With doctors offering no cure or explanation, Dowell, who lives with his parents, continues to hope his "15 seconds of fame" end soon. "The Guinness Book of World Records lists somebody who's had the hiccups for 68 years," he says. "I really don't want to beat that."
Shocked into Action
The mauling death of a coach leads to new laws for partners left behind
When the women's lacrosse team of Saint Mary's College plays, Sharon Smith goes to cheer them on—and to honor their fallen leader. Last January, coach Diane Whipple, 33, was mauled to death by a 123-lb. dog outside the San Francisco apartment she shared with Smith, 36, her partner of seven years (PEOPLE, Feb. 19). Neighbors Marjorie Knoller, 46, and her husband, Robert Noel, 60—attorneys who claimed they had no idea the Presa Canario was vicious—were charged with involuntary manslaughter; Knoller was also indicted for second-degree murder for failing to stop the attack or summon help. "I'll never forgive them," says Smith, a vice president at Charles Schwab. In fact, the dog, which was destroyed, belonged to two white supremacists serving life prison sentences, one of whom Knoller and Noel had adopted as their son. With bail set at $2 million, the couple await a trial due to start next month in L.A. In the meantime, Smith campaigned for a bill allowing same-sex domestic partners to file wrongful death suits, which she did in March. "Sharon's been extraordinarily active during a terrible personal time," says Assemblywoman Carole Migden. Smith saw the measure passed—a memorial to her union with Whipple. "We shared everything," she says.
Apparently cancer-free, GMA film critic Joel Siegel enjoys playtime with his son
on a trip to the furniture store last July, a few weeks after doctors removed a cancerous section of Joel Siegel's right lung (PEOPLE, Aug. 6), his 3-year-old son Dylan asked why his dad couldn't help out with the purchase of a new bed. "I said it was because of my boo-boo," says Siegel, 58. For the Good Morning America film critic and wife Ena, 45, a painter, explaining the illness to their boy is an ongoing challenge. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997, Siegel thought he'd beaten it—only to learn three years later that the disease had spread to his lungs. "I don't have any more lung to lose," he says. "I've lost half of my left one and a third of my right one." For now, he appears cancer-free. "We're very optimistic that there will be no evidence of further disease," says oncologist Jeffrey Tepler. Savoring every moment with his son, Siegel explores their relationship in a book he's now writing, tentatively titled Lessons for Dylan. "I think of all the things I want to do with Dylan, and what I'd miss if I wasn't able to do them," he says. "One is taking him to his first ball game. I want to be there for that. I want to be sitting next to him when he watches the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera." Siegel, in fact, recently took Dylan to his first film, Monsters, Inc. "He didn't critique it, God help us."
Jumping the Fence
Finding greener pastures in the Senate, ex-Republican Jim Jeffords has no regrets about a party switch that gave Dems an edge
This wasn't like switching sides in some pickup basketball game. When Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, 67, defected from the Republican party he'd served since winning his first congressional seat in 1974, he upset the balance of the entire country (PEOPLE, June 11). Until Jeffords's May 24 announcement, the Senate was split fifty-fifty, with the GOP's Dick Cheney casting all tie-breaking votes. That gave the Vermonter a rare opportunity. "If a Republican changed sides, it would alter the whole course of history," says Jeffords, who, as a supporter of abortion rights and education spending, was at odds with his party's conservative platform. "It occurred to me that if I didn't accept the responsibility of making that change, I'd forever be held responsible for what happened." Becoming an Independent and often voting with the Democrats made Jeffords a hero to some—like actress Sharon Stone, who tearily thanked him while in D.C. in June. But it ignited fury in others, prompting more than 40 death threats among his stacks of hate mail. Jeffords weathers continued disdain from those to his right in the Capitol. Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who morphed from Majority Leader to Minority Leader after Jeffords left the fold, accused his colleague of trying to "undermine our democracy." Still, the switch "has worked out well for him," says Jeffords's fellow Vermont senator, Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. "He's been a lot more comfortable." Passionate about his new position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jeffords, who just published a book called My Declaration of Independence, has been reenergized by his move. "It's made such a difference to me," he says, "I've given up on my thoughts of retiring."
An Olympian Feat
Recovering from a horrific crash, gold medal skier Bill Johnson defies the odds
For downhill racer Bill Johnson, it was going to be "the comeback of the millennium." That's what the 1984 Olympic gold medalist predicted last year when he began training to make the U.S. ski team. Despite a 10-year layoff, the famously brash Johnson, 41, had visions of mining more precious metal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Instead, careening down the slopes at 50 mph at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Kalispell, Mont., last March, he crashed headlong into packed snow (PEOPLE, May 14). Severe brain injuries left Johnson unable to speak or move his limbs, and doctors gave him just a 30 percent chance of survival—at best. "He's not playing on all eight cylinders and he knows that," says close friend and training partner John Creel, 45. "He knows he screwed his brain up and he's not completely recovered. I would be worried if he didn't. A lot of people would be really surprised to see him walking around." Indeed, thanks to intensive rehab, Johnson plays golf, swims, bikes, and this month ventured back onto the ski slopes. He shrugs off his plight with no regrets. "It was an accident," he says, slightly slurring his words. "I'm just hurt. I've been hurt before." A divorced father of two sons, Johnson lives in Gresham, Ore., with his mother DB, 65, and her husband, Jimmy Cooper, 47 (his father died of lung cancer in 1995). Johnson still has a long way to go. Plagued by lingering back problems, he walks gingerly and, perhaps, with just a bit less swagger. "I don't see myself being the best in the world," Johnson says. "I'll be the best I can be."
Just Like Starting Over
Falsely imprisoned for 15 years, Jeff Pierce comes back to life and to the family he left behind
After 15 years behind bars, Jeff Pierce was resigned to the stark fact that he would spend the rest of his life as prisoner #158592 at Oklahoma's Joseph Harp Correctional Center. In 1986 the ex-landscaper, now 40, had been sentenced to 65 years for a rape and robbery in Oklahoma City, convicted largely because police forensics expert Joyce Gilchrist had testified that she'd matched Pierce's hair with samples found at the crime scene. Pierce maintained his innocence, with good reason: This year, DNA tests proved that Gilchrist's testimony had been erroneous in his case and that another man had committed the crime (PEOPLE, May 28). Investigators are now revisiting dozens of other cases in which Gilchrist testified, including 11 that have resulted in the death penalty. In May Pierce was freed to reunite with twins Steven and Kevin, 16, and ex-wife Kathy, 42, near Port Huron, Mich. The transition has been tough. "You feel like you don't fit in society, and you don't know what to talk about because you talked prison lingo for so long," he says. Still, Kathy notes, "We're doing good. He's exactly like he was. He never sits still." Though he hasn't yet joined the workforce, Pierce has retaken his driver's test, assayed the Internet, and tended to dental work ("They don't clean your teeth in prison," he says). He has also slowly bonded with his boys. "I still don't feel like a dad," admits Pierce, who earlier this month filed a civil suit against the state. Although Gilchrist, 53, who insisted her mistakes were honest, was fired in September, "it's 15 years too late," says Pierce. "When you're free, you don't know what it's like to have that taken away from you."
Her Change of Heart
Transplant recipient Marcia Adams basks in her renewed health and helps others who are ailing
After her heart transplant in March, author and PBS cooking-show host Marcia Adams made a promise to the family of her 59-year-old donor: "I will take very good care of this heart," she wrote in a letter following the four-hour procedure (PEOPLE, April 16). "You have given me a second chance, and I will use it wisely and for the benefit of other women." Suffering through seven arduous years since her initial diagnosis in 1994, Adams, 66, whose own heart was beating at just 50 percent of capacity, wasted no time. While still recovering she founded Heartstrings, a group dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease, which kills more than half a million women each year. She also coproduced a PBS documentary about women and heart disease—featuring footage from her operation—slated to air in February. What's more, Adams, who undergoes physical therapy five days a week near her Fort Wayne, Ind., home and remains on heavy medication, is working on her second book about heart disease, Marcia Adams: Heart Anew, as well as a first novel. "Her activity levels are absolutely unhindered," says transplant surgeon Dr. Joe Ladowski of Fort Wayne's Lutheran Hospital of Indiana. "All of her muscle strength and respiratory reserve are normal." Her husband, Dick, 74, who acts as Marcia's business manager, wishes she'd "pace herself a little better, slow down and smell the flowers," but Adams would rather run through them. When the couple visit Cambodia on a February vacation, "I plan to swing from the banyan trees," she says. "I feel like I've rejoined the human race."
To pay for college, two pals become walking ads for ingenuity
They have yet to declare their majors, but college freshmen Chris Barrett and Luke McCabe (PEOPLE, March 19) have already aced Economics 101. Entering their senior year at Haddonfield (N.J.) Memorial High School, the best friends hit upon an idea: renting themselves out as spokes-students to finance college. Promoting the concept on their Web site—chrisandluke.com—they drew offers from 20 companies. The pair opted for First USA, a credit card firm that agreed to pay them each roughly $40,000 a year in room, board, tuition and expenses if they would publicize fiscal responsibility to students. "We thought we were going to be like NASCAR drivers and have logos all over our arms," says Barrett, 19, who attends Pepperdine University in Malibu while McCabe, 18, chose nearby USC. Instead they'll soon start giving lectures and stocking their Web site with finance tips. "They're smart, savvy and very engaging," says First USA's Doug Filak. The pitchpals are also pinching themselves. "We never thought this would be a reality," says McCabe. After all, admits Barrett, "we just had a dream about coming out to Southern California and being Southern Cal guys."
Before losing her battle with cancer in October, Kate Carmichael worked to restore her beloved Halifax and spoke plainly of her impending death
Her memorial service was packed, but there is no more fitting tribute to Kate Carmichael (PEOPLE, March 12) than the revitalized area of Halifax, N.S., where her mourners gathered. In November 1999 the executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer, and was later given just three months to live. "I can't imagine sitting on my sofa, sipping mint juleps and waiting for the end," Carmichael said four weeks before her death, at 51, on Oct. 18. Instead she continued her five-year mission to rehab the city's seedy center with preserved historic buildings and a new waterfront. She also went public with her battle in a series of widely heard Canadian radio interviews with "This Morning" host Shelagh Rogers. "I said, 'I'm dying, and this is how I'm dealing with it and preparing for it,' " explained the namesake of Halifax's new Carmichael Street. Says Rogers: "She gave people permission to speak about the last taboo." Carmichael's frankness also helped attorney husband Alan Parish, 53, and five grown children (from their previous marriages) to face her mortality, and it was partly with them in mind that she stopped life-extending blood transfusions. "Are they going to remember me as this sickly person who hung on and on?" she asked. She died at home in her sleep after Parish and friend Jim Gimian carried her upstairs to bed. "It was the first and only time she didn't walk," says Gimian, 52, a publisher who, on Oct. 23, led the nonreligious memorial Carmichael had helped plan. "Her legacy will be that when we're faced with a challenge, whether it is our own death or seeing that an ugly building is to be built downtown, there's going to be that little voice saying, 'We can make this better.' "
A New Leash on Life
From the White House to the doghouse, former Clinton kitty Socks finds a new place to claw home
It shouldn't happen to a dog. So it didn't. Decamping 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in January, the Clintons ignited one last scandal: While Buddy, their chocolate Labrador retriever, remained with the family, Socks, history's most celebrated First Feline, was exiled, sent to live with Betty Currie, 62, the President's personal secretary, and her husband, Robert, 61, a retired EPA executive, in northern Virginia (PEOPLE, Jan. 22). After eight years in pawer, it seemed a tragic fall—but weep not for Socks. "He's happy, " says Currie, 62, who retired in August. "He's an indoor cat, but I walk him around on a leash. He enjoys seeing the neighborhood and the kids." In fact, she and the cat bonded long ago. "Socks was always hanging out in her office," says former White House adviser Paul Begala. "Maybe it was the treats she gave him." An 11-year-old Chelsea Clinton was Socks's first champion, adopting the black-and-white stray she found at her piano teacher's Little Rock home in 1991. But the fur flew when Buddy bounded onto the scene in 1997. The President admitted he had no luck negotiating in his own backyard. Now Socks, 11, coexists peaceably with Currie's 14-year-old tabby, Miss Cali. Has he had any visits from his former owners? "No," says Currie, "but they have a standing invitation."