Leeza Gibbons is truly an ambassador of good. Whether she was delivering the latest in Hollywood news during her years as anchor on Entertainment Tonight, or through her tireless work today with Alzheimersdisease.com, Leeza is determined to deliver information—and support—to those in need. We spoke exclusively with Leeza about coping when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, scrapbooking through the pain, and turning a new—and beautiful—page in life.
Let’s talk about your work with alzheimersdisease.com
It’s a web destination which is a tremendous resource for people who are affected by it. It’s a sigh of relief for those who are lost and you can feel overwhelmed when you find out that your mom or dad, or spouse, has a
memory-robbing illness. You don’t know what to do. You get frozen with fear because you’re afraid of what you don’t know and you’re afraid of what you do know, and that is that, for now, it won’t get better.
Of course, a diagnosis of any disease is scary, but Alzheimer’s is especially frightening to so many people.
That’s true. When you ask, “What is our life about?” It’s creating memories, it’s who we love and our experience is replaying those memories. When you take that away, it questions our very existence. It makes you face a lot of those soul-searching moments. On the website, we have expert advice and words of wisdom from real caregivers. Both my grandmother and mother both died from Alzheimer’s. We got everyone in my family together, and talked about our experiences. We put those interviews on the site. We hope families will be inspired by our experience and they can start those conversations.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, correct? But just because you have a family member who has it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.
That’s right. We’re creating awareness and looking at prevention in general. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s or cancer, stress is your enemy. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain. It’s exercise, it’s hydration, it’s managing your stress, and being a person with purpose. If you have purpose and meaning in your life, that’s a great protector. It doesn’t mean you won’t get a disease. You might get it at 80 instead of at age 60. If you
get symptoms, you’re best off getting treatment as soon as possible. Medicine can be more effective when taken sooner.
Do you worry that with Alzheimer’s in your family that you could potentially get it?
I’m not going to sign up for a problem that’s not mine to take, but I take the steps to protect myself. For example, I mitigate stress in my life. And I know that early intervention is key. Having an unnamed enemy
gives it way too much power.
How did you handle your mother’s illness?
When it came to be my mother’s turn, I pulled the covers over my head for the longest time. I thought, “I’ll take action; I’m a journalist, I’ll travel the world.” I was out of touch with things.
I would say “dedicated.”
Oh, no. I couldn’t face it. Although it’s worth going after answers, I realized that I lost time with my mom. I woke up soon enough to realize that there are burdens and blessings to this disease. I learned to be
present in a way I had never been before. As women, we’re planners and fixers and we want to make it better. I couldn’t fix it. Caregivers need to be recognized and nourished. It’s heroic work because your loved ones can’t tell you that you’re doing a great job. A heart never forgets, and you have to know the core essence knows. That’s why our entire site is dedicated to giving strength and support for caregivers.
How did you cope?
In the beginning, I was in fix-it mode. I would not let anyone in. You think that no one gets it, and of course, that’s a sinking hole. It doesn’t do you any good but you do it because it’s self-protective. We don’t want to fail, and we don’t want to feel. And in the end, my mother’s sickness and death was what got me scrapbooking. I wanted to tell her story. I wanted to fill in the gap for my kids.
It was therapy.
It was. I had always planned to sit with my mom and go through the past. My mom and I traveled everywhere together. I worked at Entertainment Tonight for so long—we traveled the world together. She was my plus one in life. I wanted to go through the old days with her but my mother lived very much in the present. I started writing down how I saw my mother. I realized that how I saw her was not how my kids saw her. She was an irreverent, sassy, sexy, witty woman. That wasn’t their experience of her. So I tried finding images of that woman. When we moved my mom to an assisted living facility, I was helping her pack, and she had this leopard bikini. It was a vestige of her youth. She put it in the pile to pack, and later I found a picture of her in the bathing suit. I told my kids, “That’s my mother.” That was one of the first pages I scrapbooked. I was capturing her energy to pass on.
That was me, too. I hadn’t scrapbooked before my mom passed away. I didn’t scrapbook my kids; I scrapbooked the loss.
Me too! I can’t believe we have that in common. And I’m not great at scrapbooking.
Neither am I. But I love doing it anyway. And now I do it with my children.
That’s why I developed my scrapbooking line for kids called All About Me. It’s to help them dream and express themselves, in whatever way they’d like. They have a place to draw and create. I hope that will be another tool
that moms can use to have time with their kids that’s not cyber time. Any time that can be used to sit down that focuses on high touch is something that we crave.
Let’s talk about your new book, Take 2: Your Guide to Creating Happy Endings and New Beginnings.
I never had a great big burning desire to write a book. Sure, I spent many years in the entertainment industry. It was a lovely time in my life, for which I am incredibly grateful. And I am still involved in an industry that
has given me access to famous people. That’s really cool. But I look at it like a halo effect; it’s deflected glory that I get to experience because of someone else. I say it all the time—I built a beautiful life off of famous people. I would never turn that around and I’m gracious and happy for it.
I’ve always been about empowering women. I value effort, so just show up and try. I look at the people I admire and it’s the people who have kept at it. Maybe they failed miserably, but they keep coming back. That’s
really inspiring. With my book, I had that opportunity to reboot my life. We all want to hit the reset button at some point. It’s as simple as just giving ourselves permission to do it. I am just going to say thank you. Dear past, thanks for the lessons. Dear future, I am ready. Then just step into it.
Wow, that’s powerful.
If you employ the efforts of flexibility and forgiveness, you can do it. You have to be very flexible on the way to the new you and be willing to get off the stage of how you used to think of yourself. That’s hard to do if you fell in love with the more fabulous, younger version of yourself. Your music has changed, so take the corsage off and get on this stage where you will find new music. You will love it here. But you have to bless and release the
other side. You have to let go of the old life to get the new life. We can get stuck in so many ways, so if you got divorced, fired, fat, whatever, you can always start over.
That’s what life is. You have to start over. Life will force you to do it. You can do it on your own or life will make you, but it will be
When life makes you, you can let go or get dragged. If you let go, you get to lead, or flow. And that’s so much better. Being dragged along is tough and makes life burdensome and it’s not supposed to be that way.
You’re now co-starring on America Now. What is that like?
I do a nightly show with the fabulous Bill Rancic. The cool thing is that I get to do a lot of caregiving tips. It’s news you can use. Those tips have been very popular, and it’s been successful. It’s become a specialty beat
of mine; that and homegrown beauty. Those two go together.
Let’s talk a bit about your family.
My family has become so much about my health advocacy. It’s become the overall wrapping of my life. I made a big change when I was going to take two years off from work to make my foundation. I wanted to make a commitment and I intended to come back. It took five years to go back, though. I love my work so much that I know that I will never give it up. It’s a change I could never have seen coming. But in closing one door I opened another that has brought so much richness. I live by the word YES, and it means “Your Empowerment System.” It teaches you how to decide what empowers you. Does this thing feed it? If it doesn’t, I say no. When I say yes to something, it has to make sense to what matters to me. And today, right now, I am completely clear about what matters most to me.