Gala of laughs and fundraising

Who says fundraising for breast cancer treatments and checks needs to be serious? A sold-out Breast Cancer Foundation Gala evening on Saturday was filled with plenty of laughs and some unprecedented auction items that raised large amounts of money for the foundation. 

Celebrity keynote speakers Bill and Giuliana Rancic proved a huge hit with the capacity audience of 540 at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, as did Cayman Free Press’ own Vicki Wheaton, and they kept the laughs going throughout the evening. 

After being introduced by Ms Wheaton, the couple took the stage where Giuliana Rancic told Ms Wheaton, who had donned a fabulous furry pink top hat for the night, that she should be a presenter on the Fashion Police – but only if she lost the hat. 

Seated side by side on high chairs on the stage, while their new baby son, Duke, slept upstairs, the Rancics filled in any audience member who didn’t already know from their reality television show “Giuliana and Bill” about how they met. He won the first season of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice and she, as an E! News anchor, interviewed him when he was doing charity work for the Boys and Girls Club of America.  

They almost didn’t meet, Ms Rancic explained, as the E! News assignment editor had been about to get an intern to do the interview. Ms Rancic’s “research” on her interview subject consisted of googling “Bill Rancic, girlfriend”, she said. That brought up a photo of blonde girlfriend, who she subsequently discovered during the interview, Bill had broken up with. 

After the interview, he asked her on a date – to go jogging. “Ladies, I don’t know about you, but a first date in Spandex, sweating with your hair pulled back from your face, no heels – not my idea of a first date, so I said “How about a drink or dinner?” and that’s what we did and we were engaged eight months later,” Ms Rancic told the audience. 

The day after they announced their engagement, Donald Trump called Mr. Rancic and advised him to get a pre-nuptial agreement. Ultimately, on her brother’s advice, she wouldn’t sign it (“Italian girls don’t sign pre-nups”).  

“In the end, my brother turned to me and said “Giuliana, you’re not signing this pre-nup, if he leaves you today, tomorrow, you’re going to take his money,” said Ms Rancic, to which her husband quickly responded: “So, that was when I became introduced to the Cayman Islands.” 

Amid the lighthearted banter between the couple, they also recounted their story of the discovery of Giuliana’s breast cancer and her subsequent double mastectomy. 

Ms Rancic, at the age of 36, discovered she had breast cancer as she was undergoing pre-IVF checks while trying to get pregnant.  

She described the moment when she was told she had cancer. “It was a shock, as some of you know in the audience here … It’s the swiftest kick in the stomach you could ever imagine. I remember hysterically crying, the ground disappeared and I just felt like I was falling,” she said. 

When cancer was discovered in both her breasts, her husband, ever the entrepreneur, said he put together a “board of directors” of medical experts. “We got several opinions and made an agreement that our board of directors all had to agree on the next step forward,” he said. 

After her surgery in December 2011, she quickly went back to work, to host the New Year’s Eve celebration in New York’s Times Square. That New Year’s Eve, the couple heard that the surrogate who had offered to carry their baby was pregnant. Edward Duke, who they call “The Duke”, was born on 29 August. 

Summarising their journey of their fight against breast cancer and their problems conceiving as “an unplanned plan”, Mr. Rancic ended their chat with the audience by saying “As I always tell Giuliana, everything will be OK in the end; if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” 

The Breast Cancer Foundation is still counting up how much money was raised at the event, which not only attracted a sold-out audience at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, but also a crowd at an after-party at Blue Cilantro restaurant. 

As well as more than 60 items for a silent auction and 10 big ticket items in a live auction, a last-minute surprise addition to the live bidding brought in $38,000 for the Breast Cancer Foundation. 

The Rancics auctioned off an “experience” item of visiting the sets of several TV shows, including Chelsea Lately, Fashion Police and E! News Entertainment. With Bill Rancic acting as auctioneer, bidding was brisk and when the bids reached $9,500, he offered the remaining four bidders the opportunity to attend the shows if they each paid $9,500. 

This was the fifth annual Breast Cancer Foundation Gala Dinner, which is the major fundraising event for the charitable organisation. Last year’s gala raised $118,350. The foundation funds a variety of breast cancer-related organisations and support groups, including the Cancer Society, the Cancer Registry, the Lions Club of Tropical Gardens and the Direct Financial Assistance Safety Net. 

Bill-and-Giuliana-Rancic

Bill and Giuliana Rancic wowed the Breast Cancer Foundation Gala audience. – PHOTOS: NORMA CONNOLLY

Breast Cancer Gala group

Bill and Giuliana Rancic, fourth and fifth from left, with the winning bidders of a behind the scenes trip to several TV shows, from left, Don and Cheryl Seymour, Fiona Nadaraja, Cynthia and Kobi Dorenbush, Ilona Pilipenko and Jason Blick, with emcee for the evening Vicki Wheaton.

Breast Cancer Gala 2

From left, Charmaine Moss, Dr. Sook Yin and Brenda McGrath were pretty in pink.

Rene Dixon

Rene Dixon, 23, one of the youngest women in the Cayman Islands to be diagnosed with breast cancer, was a model and a special guest at the gala.

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