ROCK FALLS – Paula Sands stands behind a podium on a raised platform, voice booming, dressed in an outfit of varying shades of black and gray, a silver art deco necklace hanging from her tiny frame.
“So, a guy goes to his doctor for his checkup,” she begins. “The doctor says, 'I have some very bad news: You have cancer, and you have Alzheimer's.' And the guy says, 'Well, thank God I don't have cancer!' And so the Alzheimer's kicks in.”
It was a lighthearted way to lead into a very serious and emotional discussion Wednesday night at the Rock River Supper Club about the KWQC TV host's battle with cancer. The event was organized by the Sauk Valley Chamber of Commerce's Professional Women's Network; its members invited Sands to discuss what it was like battling cancer in the spotlight.
“I have a job that for 31 years has had me reporting in the public eye on other people's problems,” she says. “And I'm thinking that maybe these kinds of things can't happen to me.”
Sands first joined the station in 1982 and began her half-hour show, “Paula Sands Live,” in 1993.
And then, in April 2011, she was diagnosed with stage 2B ovarian cancer.
“Why me?” she says. “That's the first thing you ask. The first thing. Why me? How did this happen to me? Tell me how this happened to me.”
For the next 30 minutes, Sands went through the ups and downs of her experience with the disease, and her journey through treatment and recovery: from the on-air shaving of her head, to the days when she wondered whether she just couldn't do it anymore.
“I went through all the things that anybody goes through when it comes to getting that kind of bad news, except I had to do it all on television,” she says. “I used the format of my life's work to share what happened to me and to somehow try to reach out to others in giving hope and encouragement because we've all got something."
Amy Dewey, 29, of Sterling, came to the event because of her admiration for Sands.
“I'm a big dweeb,” Dewey says. “Like, I kind of squealed when she walked in the door. She's just been through so much; she's such a powerful figure.”
Sitting at a round table about 20 feet away from Sands, Dewey occasionally takes out her cellphone to snap pictures throughout the presentation.
Afterward, Dewey says she loved it.
“I'm going to try to get a picture with her,” she says excitedly, standing up upon Sands' close.
“Regardless of what's going on, everyone's going through hard things,” Kimberly Ewoldsen, executive director of the Sauk Valley Chamber of Commerce, said. “We thought she could give some tips on how to handle them.”
Ewoldsen saw the event as a success.
“I think it accomplished what we hoped and shed some light for our community members,” she says. “I think it was a great opportunity; a lot of the people were networking at their tables, talking and laughing. It was just a fun night.”