No matter who wins the next Presidential election, the newest generation in Hollywood is in great shape. This fact was made clear by child stars Sammi Hanratty (Pushing Daisies), 13, Field Cate (Pushing Daisies), 11, Madison Davenport (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl), 11, Ryan Ochoa (The Perfect Game), 12, Vincent Martella (Everybody Hates Chris, Phineas & Ferb), 15, and Jennette McCurdy, (iCarly) 16, as they came out in force to support the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA for the ninth annual fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 7, at Santa Monica Pier. The Hollywood juniors manned booths at the beach-front theme park and helped with other festivities designed to shine a spotlight on toy-maker Mattel’s children’s care wing at UCLA. This wing becomes home away from home for many ill and recovering kids. Madison Davenport put it this way: “Everybody should do charity work!” This out of the mouth of a very wise eleven year old whose favorite movie is Carousel with Shirley Jones.
Rochester native Vincent Martella brought his Dad, and said plainly: “We’re here to help raise money for these kids and this hospital.” Ryan Ochoa, who recently held his own for “25 takes” in one scene with Jim Carrey for next year’s Bob Zemeckis-directed Scrooge picture, rolled his eyes at the idea that anyone would not be involved in charity work, “like, of course.” Rupak Ginn of Cheetah Girls was the senior member of the star troupe, at 25, but he clearly was on board with the kids, “this is a great thing to do, for anyone to do.” Field Cate, at 11, apparently loves to help kids so much he even “watches baby shows on TV” with his 3-1/2 year old adorable brother, “just to see what he is up to.”
While the day-long event brought out scores of young patients, their doctors, UCLA Medical Staff, and entire families made up the 1400-strong crowd that was estimated in attendance, there was one special mother and daughter team that underscored the seriousness of this event. That would be iCarly’s Jennette McCurdy and her Mom, Debra McCurdy. Debra McCurdy is cancer free now, but 13 years ago she almost lost her life to breast cancer.
Here’s the story of Debra McCurdy’s amazing recovery from cancer thanks to UCLA Hospital’s cancer specialists, and how it changed the life of daughter Jennette who would grow up to become Miranda Cosgrove’s TV best friend Sam on hit show iCarly:
Q: Jennette, do kids come up to you and go ‘wow, you’re on iCarly’!
One time I walked past a public school and recess was on, and the kids were poking their hands through the fences and screaming bloody murder, I was trying to sign everything because I didn’t want to miss anyone! They were little kids too.
Q: For the event today, are you going to be volunteering, or riding rides?
Yeah, I am hopefully gonna get to ride some rides and be like maybe working a booth and hopefully getting to meet all the kids (from the hospital).
Q: Have you met any of the kids yet?
No, I have just been taking pictures, so I want to go meet them. Sammi Hanratty is here, she’s like my little sister slash best friend. I love her.
Q: What brought you to the event?
UCLA is actually very special, my mom had breast cancer. She had her treatment at UCLA Hospital.
Q: Do you mind if we talk to your mom, Debra, and include some of this stuff?
Jennette McCurdy: She’s coming over now, she’ll tell you the story —
Debra McCurdy: Thirteen years ago, I had breast cancer that was missed, misdiagnosed. Two years later it was found and was severe. So I was sent for an experimental procedure at UCLA.
Q: Now Jennette was only 3 at the time, right? Jennette, do you remember your mom being sick?
Jennette McCurdy: Kind of, I remember some things. I was little.
Debra McCurdy: I have three other sons; I had kids ranging from 3 to 10 at the time. I had to have a bone marrow transplant.
Q: Was this stem cells?
Debra McCurdy: Yes, yes it was. I had ten times the normal dose of chemo; I had fantastic doctors (she names the entire roster of UCLA cancer specialists). They have the best nursing staff. Everything about that hospital is incredible.
Q: We’re all going to cry now because this is such a happy ending, but why did you have to have a bone marrow transplant for breast cancer — did it get in your bones?
Debra McCurdy: It wasn’t in my bones, but it was in a lot of lymph nodes. The reason why they had to do the bone marrow transplant was that they had to give me such high doses of chemo that it killed my own bone marrow, which had to be replaced.
Q: Wow. And you are cancer-free now?
Debra McCurdy: Yep. It killed all the cancer.
Q: Christina Applegate recently had a double mastectomy, did you have to do that also?
Debra McCurdy: Just my left, on my left side. But I had a lot of other surgeries. I had my ovaries removed, part of my colon. They kept going in after it. That’s why we’re here today, because we support everything UCLA Hospital does — and we’re here for the children.
Q: Jennette, as you get older, are you going to get screened and everything, because there is genetic component to this?
Jennette McCurdy: Yeah. My mom says that’s really important, even though you might not want to go — you have to. Everybody has to.
Q: Do you remember anything specific about her being sick?
Jennette McCurdy: Thank goodness I was so little. I just remember her constantly being away; going to the hospital to see her. I wanted to see her more.
Q: Was your mom being sick what brought you into acting in a way, distracting yourself while she was away for those years on and off?
Jennette McCurdy: Actually, yeah. I have three older brothers, and they were trying to watch movies to keep our minds off it. The main movie we watched was the original Star Wars movie. we would always say ‘Mommy has the Force. The Force is with Mommy!’ And uhm, when Star Wars I (Episode One) came out on the big screen it was a huge deal for our family: she had the force! We were all so excited because all those years she’d recovered. We went to the earliest showing we could. As soon as the credits started rolling, I turned to my mom and said ‘Mom, I want to be in the movies.’
Q: How old were you at that time?
Jennette McCurdy: I was six. And I harassed her (about doing acting).
Debra McCurdy: [Laughs] Well, I’m alive and cancer-free. I wouldn’t change any of it. I lived to see my oldest son be married and graduate as a computer engineer. My second majoring in history; my third wanting to be a film animator.
Q: And this one on TV! Everything is a blessing from here on.
Debra McCurdy: Absolutely.
Q: Jennette, since we know you have a great gig with iCarly, what else do you want to do or who do you want to meet in your career?
Jennette McCurdy: Well, I want to do movies and direct. Go to film school at UCLA. For screenwriting. But I’ve already met Harrison Ford, I was on the verge of tears meeting him.
Q: Did you tell him the story of watching his movie and the Force and your mom’s cancer; what did he say?
Jennette McCurdy: He was so nice to me. He patted me on the head and took different pictures. I had a small part in one of his movies, Hollywood Homicide.
Debra McCurdy: I got to meet him too.
Q: iCarly is so popular, you might have to do film school online; you’re so busy.
Jennette McCurdy: Movies are my ultimate goal. Behind the scenes would be great, starring in movies would be great. Oh, I’m also working on a CD.
Q: You’re singing? In what style?
Jennette McCurdy: I can’t let that out yet! You’ll see. But just living in the moment, being grateful for what you have is where it’s at, especially when you go through something in life like this. And I just want to say hi to all the kids.
(If you want to learn more about the Mattel/UCLA connection, visit here.)