Soap Opera July '00


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Tears in Heaven, How ALS touched GL's Beth Chamberlin personally, Soap Opera Weekly, July 18, 2000.  In her own words as told to Mark McGarry.


Actors often think back to real-life heartache when they have to conjure up tears in a scene.  Guiding Light's Beth Chamberlin (Beth) didn't have to dig deep during Lizzie's leukemia storyline.  Last December, just before that emotional story began, she lost her father, Stanley, who died of heart failure.  Nine days later, she lost a dear friend to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the same disease that her former GL co-star Michael Zaslow (ex-Roger Thorpe) succumbed to in December 1998.  While Beth didn't know how to deal with the fact that she might lose her daughter, Chamberlin didn't know how cope with the pain of losing two people so close to her.  The grief was overwhelming and all-consuming.  But Chamberlin followed the example of Curtis R. Vance, her friend who died of ALS, and worked to create something positive out of a devastating situation.  She helped form the Curtis R. Vance Foundation, which like ZazAngels, helps raise money for ALS patients, their families and for research.  She also took solace in knowing that her father and her friend are together in heaven.  The pain will always be there, but Chamberlin has found a light at the end of the tunnel.  Here, in her own words, she shares her story.

   In May of 1999, I was home in Vermont visiting, and my dad said, "I was just talking to Roy Vance, Curtis' father.  Curtis watches the show all the time, and he would really like to meet you."  I knew he was suffering from ALS; he had been diagnosed in August 1998.  So I went up to see him, and I met Curtis and Heidi, who was his girlfriend at the time.  I went there with great trepidation.  I thought: This is going to be depressing.  But, instead, Curtis and Heidi were the most uplifting people I could imagine meeting.  Instead of feeling depressed, I left feeling how wonderful life was, and was inspired by these two and the way they were approaching his illness.
    A month and a half later, Curtis' health was failing more, so I wanted to do something for them.  I decided that I would do a benefit - a reading of Love Letters.  Then, Thanksgiving weekend, I went up for his wedding to Heidi.  It was an incredibly beautiful wedding.  My mom (a minister) spoke, and my dad was there.  That ended up being the last time I saw my father.
    I was at the set when I got word that my father had died, and it was the most painful experience of my life.  Curtis was at my father's funeral, because every week they would have a healing circle on Thursdays for Curtis and for other people in the community.  Curtis was really afraid of dying through this whole thing, and Heidi shared with me that after my father passed, Curtis wasn't afraid anymore, because he felt that if there was someone who would be wonderful to meet you on the other side, it was my dad.
    So I don't think it's coincidental that Curtis died nine days after my father.  Obviously I saw neither of them during Christmas.
    Heidi and I laugh now, because my dad loved to watch the show as well.  My father just did not want to watch the lovemaking scenes.  So my father would say, "Oh, fast-forward that," and Curtis would say, "Oh, pause that."  We laugh and say that my father and Curtis are watching GL together and both of them are fighting over the remote, deciding what they want to watch and what they want to fast-forward through - and I'm sure they are.
    As for the Curtis R. Vance Foundation, you just have to say, "I have to get involved in some way."  Any drop of money that we're able to raise is a drop in this big ocean of research.  All these drops create real change, and that's my expectation for this foundation.  They've put together a number of really wonderful people on the board, so I'm fully expecting that it will be a very positive force in finding a cure.
    I first heard about ALS with Michael Zaslow.  But when Curtis was diagnosed, I really saw the progression.  In some ways it's very fast, and in other ways it's painfully slow.  It's such an unfair disease, and I certainly have to question how I would deal with it - or would have dealt with it before knowing Curtis.  I do believe that Curtis lived another 30 years in that one year, because he completely lived each day, which most of us don't do.  Mostly we go through the day and grumble about different things.  They chose to notice the gift of each day.  Therefore, they taught everyone else how to live a little better.  Right now, I'm trying to remind myself of that, and I'm trying to follow their example, because all I can focus on is my own loss and how much I want to see my father's face again.  I have to just keep saying to myself that I guess my dad had to be there to welcome Curtis so Curtis wouldn't be so afraid.  There was meaning.  

For more information about the Curtis R. Vance Foundation, write: Curtis R. Vance Foundation, P.O. Box 203, Danville, VT 05828  

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