"We were very fortunate," said “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Kathy Wakile amidst the buzz of the crowd gathered at Masina Trattoria in Weehawken on June 8. "My daughter survived her brain tumor, it was benign, and we got a clean bill of health. But for a lot of people it doesn't work out that way."
Wakile, her husband Rich, her sister Rosie Pierri, her son Joseph, and many others from the reality television show came to the waterfront restaurant to help raise money for the National Brain Tumor Society during a fundraiser hosted by Dining Out New Jersey.
Wakile and her family were on the beach one day when her daughter Victoria, then only 10, passed out inexplicably. Doctors soon discovered the young girl had developed a benign brain tumor.
"Some good things really do come from reality TV." – Kathy Wakile
Victoria did in fact end up okay, and is set to graduate high school and move on to college to become a nurse this coming year.
Why Wakile did it
"Some good things really do come from reality T.V.," Kathy Wakile said. "We're real people living our real lives, and I'm so proud, and so honored, and really humbled that our story touched someone and that now our voices can be leant to raise awareness to finding a cure for brain tumors."
At first, Wakile was hesitant to share her daughter's story with the public since it was an event that was so deeply emotional and traumatic for the family, she said. She was afraid of any possible negative affect the reveal might have on Victoria. But once she realized the good that could come of it, she made the decision to go for it.
“That day, when we were given that lottery ticket of health, we were committed to giving back,” she said of the day Victoria was deemed healthy again. “[Victoria] has this inner strength that’s so amazing, and people see her for the mature young lady that she is. She has a different outlook on life now, and she wants to be that person that helped her through.”
“That kid was a trooper,” Pierri said of Victoria. “The whole time she was in the hospital her spirits were so alive. She’s had a smile on her face since she was a baby. She’s a joy to be around.”
Pierri went on to say that Wakile was hesitant at first to participate in the show. She said her sister spent months going back and forth, and almost said no, but Pierri and her family pushed her.
“I told her, ‘Are you kidding me, Kath? This is your time to show the world that there’s great people out there,’” Pierri added. “We can hopefully inspire others to be better people, which is what led me to do certain things.”
Coming out on national television
One “certain thing” occurred two weeks ago when, amidst the heated national debate surrounding gay marriage legislation, Pierri came out on the show to Wakile’s children. The episode was received much in the same way the issue it addressed has been: viewers either loved or hated it.
“I didn’t even realize the timing of it,” Pierri said. “I’m kind of low key. I’m never out marching in parades or at clubs. I just have my own circle of friends and family and that’s it. Nobody ever questioned me.”
Until, of course, she became a star on a reality television show. Then, she said, it became an issue of getting to her niece and nephew before not-so-understanding strangers did.
“People were gonna see me on television and they were gonna call me out,” she explained. “It’s not exactly rocket science.” So she and Kathy discussed the matter with their family and then made the decision to speak with Joseph and Victoria on camera.
“My kids saw Rosie and they saw love. That’s it,” Wakile said. “If my sister’s story helps one teenager feel secure and feel loved and feel that they can go and speak to their family, it’s all worth it. I’ll take the knocks, no problem.”
With all the news stories of homosexuality-related teenage suicide and drug and alcohol problems, Pierri was even more convinced she had made the right decision, she said.
“Reality TV has its ups and downs,” Wakile admitted, “but when you’re real and you share what’s really in your heart and what’s happening in your life, you can’t help but own it and do something good with it.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org