I’m happy to have Christine Schwab as my guest today. She’s a fashion, beauty and lifestyle television reporter and author and has been a guest on Oprah, NBC Nightly News, CBS-The Early Show, The Today Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, Entertainment Tonight, The Insider, Rachael Ray, Inside Edition, CNBC News, and many more. As the contributing style editor to Redbook magazine Christine wrote a highly rated monthly column. She’s also been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and other top publications.
Along with Take Me Home From the Oscars, she’s also author of Quickstyle and The Grown-Up Girl’s Guide to Style. But behind all the glamour of her career, Christine hid a secret—she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. In her book, she discusses how she hid this at work and play, covering it up in clever ways. Here’s what she had to say:
What was the scariest thing about finding out you had Rheumatoid Arthritis? “The visions that filled my head. The Rheumatologist office was filled with pamphlets of crippled people. My mind filled with scenes from the arthritis television telethons. All I could think of was, I couldn’t be crippled, I was a fashion reporter on TV. Arthritis was about as far removed from my career and lifestyle as anything I could imagine. It was like a nightmare.”
Were you more worried about the pain you felt or the future of your career? “The future of my career. I felt I could deal with the pain, hopefully control it, but I couldn’t control what I knew would happen to my career if the word got out. I was not a major celebrity. I could be replaced easily. I felt like the ground underneath me was shaking and I had to try to keep my balance so I wouldn’t fall through the cracks. I was petrified. I had worked so hard to get to where I was and I was at the top of my career. Everything in my life was perfect: my career, my new marriage, and my health. Until arthritis. I worried that my life as I knew it then, would all go away.”
Why couldn’t you tell your coworkers and peers about your arthritis? “Because the perception of arthritis is still old and crippled. People still make cruel jokes about arthritis. Just the other night at dinner a friend sat across from me and crippled up his hand, trying to be funny. That is NOT funny. Yes, people used to end up in wheelchairs but today with the new medications and treatments that is not the case. And major celebrities do not come forward about arthritis the way they do cancer, drugs, and other diseases. Do you know of ANY major celebrity who has said they have arthritis? I don’t. And yet you know they are out there because arthritis strikes so many people. Some athletes come forward, some minor celebrities, but not the big stars. Why? Because of the perception. But my goal is to change that perception, add glamour to arthritis, and take it to Hollywood. This is a new age for arthritis. People need to know that. Crippled pictures need to be replaced with glamour. Arthritis needs a make-over and in my career I have done more television make-overs than any other television personality. I can do this. My book, Take Me Home From The Oscars will do this.”
Do you think you would have been happier if they knew and accepted you for it? “Of course, but it wasn’t even a possibility at the time. This was twenty years ago. Even today, without a make-over, it wouldn’t be possible. If I had a drug problem or cancer it would be OK. It even furthers the careers of some celebrities, but not arthritis…not yet.”
What was it about Hollywood that kept you coming back, even though it was so hard for you? “I am not a quitter. You don’t invest your life into a career and give it up easily, at least I don’t. I am a fighter. I knew I could do this. I found a doctor that said “just hang in there, we need to keep you going because there are many new exciting drugs in the research pipeline.” And there were and I went in a testing program for one of them that put me into total remission, but not before I spent seven years in the battle of my life.”
What kind of role did your husband play in the process? “He was totally supportive, but he had a big job in television and his life was overflowing. I even hid a lot of pain and side effects from him. We had only been married for four months when I was diagnosed. I felt he didn’t buy into this and really, how would it help me by constantly complaining to him? I needed him as a break from arthritis and he was.”
What was it like to go through a medical trial?” It was scary and empowering. There is no other hope. In the research labs they make you sign papers every time you go in for a treatment that say things that knock you over with fright. Someone got cancer, someone died…and you have to sign away that you know and understand and you want to continue in the program. But those someone’s could have had cancer or died without the research drug and that’s what makes you sign. That and desperation. You don’t enter a medical trial program unless you are desperate and everything else has failed you. It was empowering because as each injection went into my body I would envision the arthritis going out. Of course it wasn’t, because as I found out nine months later I was on the placebo, but that shows what the mind can do when you believe.”
What did you learn from years of living a double life, spending equal time on glamorous national TV shows and in hospital rooms? “I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was and I could take pain. I learned that I could be pro-active and take control of my disease. I learned that a major part of my treatment and wellness was up to me. Now I know I can survive anything. I had a lot in my life to survive for and I was determined not to lose any of it.”
What do you hope that telling your story through your book will accomplish? “My book will help others realize that they can survive. It will show them that tenacity can pull you through. Attitude in everything. I’m not saying you won’t have bad days, but you have them and then move forward. Only you can make the difference. A doctor can give you the medicine, but you need to get the right attitude. Negativity gets you nowhere but sicker. Positivity will pull you through. Never, ever give up. I totally believe in that with everything in life, especially one’s health. My book will help anyone who is dealing with adversity in his or her life, not just arthritis. It’s about overcoming obstacles and surviving. It’s a book of hope.”
What message would you send to people trying to succeed? “Believe in yourself. Never give up. Learn all you can about your craft and the people you admire in the business. Borrow from them and then make it your own. In my chapter about the Today Show I talk about the number of times I had to call and pursue the Executive Producer. I just spoke with him this past week after he read my book and we laughed over my persistence. But it got me the job. I had to prove to him that I was serious and wanted the job. He tested me and I passed because I never gave up. Everyone wants to work in Hollywood. The ones who do work in Hollywood are the ones who want it the most.”
Why did you decide to come forward with your arthritis now after keeping it a secret for so many years? “In my writer’s group I was working on a memoir about my childhood and it came to me how important my childhood was to my ability to deal with arthritis. And through this writing I realized I needed to do a book to share my journey with others. I knew it was time and I knew I could make a difference. I knew I would be able to change the perception of arthritis with the right book. And I knew it was right when the words flowed onto the pages. It was a story that I needed to share at last.”
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