For the past year and a half, Quivers was one of those people. Her silly job – running through the news, laughing at Stern's online porn habit, quizzing celebrities about their sex lives, taking calls from the poor souls in the Wack Pack, mocking inept junior staffers – began to take on deeper meaning. "This whole time, the show gave me a reason to wake up in the morning," she says. "Gave me four hours of extreme separation from what was really going on in my life. The person on the air didn't have my illness. That was the four hours I got not to be sick."
Quivers' doctors told her in July that she's cancer-free: "Cured" was the word they used. After a lengthy seclusion, where her only real contact with the world was the radio show and doctors' visits, she's just starting to get her life back.
Yesterday was the first time in months she'd seen herself with a full head of hair – a curly, reddish-brown weave, to be specific. Until now, she didn't have enough of her own hair to attach it, and she wasn't ready to glue a wig to her head. She's expertly painted on eyebrows and applied "deep, dark mascara" to conceal the fact that she has no eyelashes. She's wearing a flowing blue top, ankle-length stretchy black pants and sparkly flip-flops showing off toenails painted blue this morning, in her first pedicure of the year. She looks healthy and happy – almost glowing, actually – if not quite the same as before the illness. "There was a freedom in knowing it doesn't matter anyway," she says. "You know, I walked out and I was like, 'I'm still Robin Quivers no matter how I look.'" At one point, she claims, she ventured out in Manhattan looking so rough that homeless guys didn't bother asking her for money.
The sun is beginning to set over the bay behind the house, and we walk up many flights of stairs to watch it from an outdoor deck. "You get that every night here," she says, hands at her hips, squinting at the auburn spectacle at water's edge.
She tends to appreciate each sunset a bit more lately. "I, quite frankly, am grateful for every day," says Quivers, who turned 61 in August. "I don't take anything for granted. When you've gone through something like this, you know you won't always be here, that something will be taking you out at some point. So what you do every day is important, from now on."
Quivers doesn't cry when she describes the moment, post-surgery, when a doctor told her that she still had only a 10 percent chance of survival. She doesn't cry when she tells an awful story about her colostomy bag coming loose in a movie theater. She doesn't cry when she describes leaving the Stern studio right before her operation, not knowing if she'd ever be back. She talks for a living, after all, and her big, mezzo-soprano voice stays steady. But when she speaks about the support that Howard Stern gave her through her illness, and tries to describe the depth of their friendship, she chokes up.
Throughout her illness, Stern was far more anxious than Quivers herself. "I felt horrible," she says, with her saxophone blast of a laugh. "Burdening him, you know? Because I know how anxious he is in life. But I knew it was OK, because he wanted to go through this with me, and he wouldn't have felt good having it go any other way. So I gave up on feeling bad about it. The day of the last show I did, Howard walks into the studio and goes, 'Oh, my God, how did you do last night? I didn't sleep a wink.' I was like, 'I slept like a baby!'" Again, the laugh.
Her relationship with Stern is quite simple: They're co-workers and best friends. Other men in her life have come and gone. Her longest relationship, with the law-enforcement officer known on the show as Mr. X, lasted a decade. But Stern stayed around. "Men have been intimidated by my relationship with Howard," she says. "You know, it's hard for them to imagine that they could be number one, seeing this relationship. He's amazing and he's powerful and they're always comparing themselves to him: 'How could she care for me when her best friend is this incredible juggernaut?' And that gets in the way."
There was one very brief moment when she thought she might be attracted to Stern – but that was based only on some flattering promo pictures, before she actually met him. "I was like, 'Oh, jeez, he's kind of good-looking,'" she says, with her loudest laugh yet. "'I might have to be careful around him.' But not once I knew him! It was never that way."
After Mr. X, Quivers dated Jim Florentine, a younger comedian who had asked her out on-air. By the time she got sick, that was long over. She doesn't flinch at the question of whether it was harder to face the illness without a partner. "Early on, we had gotten another batch of bad news, and Howard and I were both crying," she says. "And he's going, 'Robin, you must feel so alone.' And I was like, 'No, I don't. You won't let me alone!'" She roars.
"And he was like, 'What?' I was like, 'You're here all the time! You're at the other end of the phone. You know when my appointments are, and it's like you can see me, because you call me immediately after I enter the door to find out what went on last night. You are so with me.'
"And I have a couple of other friends who were also with me to that extent. So there was never a moment where I was sitting around going, 'Oh, my God, how do I get through this alone?' They never left me alone. I was like, 'Maybe I haven't figured out how to have a great relationship, but boy, do I have incredible friends.' They literally kept me alive."
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